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New Left Review 23, September-October 2003


Meanings of culture, the place of politics and role of intellectuals in the practice of criticism, as conceived since Arnold. Replying to Stefan Collini in NLR 18, Francis Mulhern asks how far the arts of a conversible portraiture bear on a critical agenda.

FRANCIS MULHERN

WHAT IS CULTURAL CRITICISM?

Stefan Collini now gives free expression to the concern that was already evident in his first response to Metaculture. [1] ‘Defending Cultural Criticism’, nlr 18, Nov–Dec 2002, pp. 73–97. See also Mulhern, Culture/Metaculture, London 2000; Collini, ‘Culture Talk’, nlr 7, Jan–Feb 2001; Mulhern, ‘Beyond Metaculture’, nlr 16, July–Aug 2002. If the historical category of Kulturkritik and my unorthodox use of it have been prominent in the exchange to date, this is in large part because it is overdetermined by issues whose charge is contemporary and prospective. ‘Defending cultural criticism’ is Collini’s title, not ‘leave it to the historians’. Of course, criticism and history cannot be simply partitioned in this case. Collini insists with more than conventional force on the continuity between them, and with reason. Nevertheless, I will say nothing more about historic Kulturkritik, except in passing. Neither of us is ready to concede, and others will weigh the arguments for themselves.

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Related articles:

  1. David Simpson: Politics as Such? In a wide-ranging debate, discussion of Francis Mulhern’s Metaculture has so far focused principally on its view of the substitutions of culture for politics in the tradition of Kulturkritik. David Simpson considers the other side of Mulhern’s argument, its critical assessment of Cultural Studies. Does a too Anglophone reading of its origins risk reproducing a resistance to the foreign in the discipline itself?
  2. Beyond Metaculture Replying to Stefan Collini in NLR 7, Francis Mulhern extends his critique of the pretensions of culture to general social authority, to the Marxist versions of Kulturkritik in the Frankfurt School. What defines the difference between politics and culture as practices?
  3. Stefan Collini: Defending Cultural Criticism Is cultural criticism condemned to the gestures of an anti-political disdain, whether Right or Left in origin? Replying to Francis Mulhern in NLR 16, Stefan Collini argues to the contrary that it signifies an indispensable moment of committed reflection.
  4. Stefan Collini: Culture Talk Between the elite traditions of Kulturkritik and the populist enthusiasms of Cultural Studies, nominal antagonists, Francis Mulhern’s Culture/Metaculture discerns a covert bond—a common hostility to politics proper, as the antonym of culture. Stefan Collini queries his way of resolving the tension between these two.
  5. Stefan Collini: On Variousness; and On Persuasion The resources culture may appropriately furnish for a critique of society, not always unpolitical, defended against Francis Mulhern’s case in Metaculture and its sequels. Does criticism persuade by attraction of example, or by force of proposition?

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