Surprise is one of the more consistently cited values of the so-called post-critical turn. On its account, critique is the enemy of surprise, a grimly predictable, if not rote, indictment of literature and culture more broadly. Critique is not only suspicious but overweening, and more than a touch smug. We know its dogmatic postures well: it is incapable of and even hostile towards surprise. My talk takes the (almost) diametrically opposed view. I argue that surprise, in the specific form of contingency, is a fundamental feature of “symptomatic reading” or critique. While the surprising effects of symptomatic reading are systematically overlooked by the "critique of critique," the indispensable work of contingency in the problematic of symptomatic reading sustains and renews its capacity to surprise without adopting the descriptive posture or rhetoric of post-critique.
Ellen Rooney is the Royce Family Professor of Modern Culture and Media and English at Brown University. She is the author of Seductive Reasoning: Pluralism as the Problematic of Contemporary Literary Theory and the Editor of the Cambridge Companion to Feminist Literary Theory, as well as Co-editor of differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies and Associate Editor of NOVEL: A forum on fiction. Her most recent essay, “Symptomatic Reading is a Matter of Form,” appeared in Critique and Postcritique (2017). Her current project, The Reading Effect and the Persistence of Form, examines the relation of the post-critical to contemporary discussions of form and the problematic of reading.
The annual Visual and Media Cultures Colloquia (VMCC) at UCSC are a collaboration between the graduate programs in Film and Digital Media Department and Visual Studies in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department. The series brings an array of cutting-edge scholars to speak on a broad spectrum of subjects. Talks are free and open to the public. Parking permit required. https://taps.ucsc.edu/parking/visitor-parking.html