Eve Sedgwick’s diagnosis of “theory” as “paranoid” has been utilized to authorize a range of critical interventions, including the most recent call by Rita Felski for a new era of “postcritique” (2015). The status of Sedgwick’s essay in shaping contemporary discourse—“arguably the origin of the reading debates” (Love, 2017)—makes it a crucial site for exploring the current denunciations of “critique.” In spite of the tremendous popularity of the “paranoid” diagnosis, there has been a total absence of any attention to the “queer” context of Sedgwick’s essay. The disregard for this queer context is significant for how it facilitates the habitual misreading of Sedgwick’s critique. However, rather than attributing strategic decontextualization to the agenda of contemporary “postcritical” readers alone, my own inquiry is interested in how Sedgwick misdiagnoses her own intervention and, specifically, the ways in which Sedgwick’s particular framing of the problem—as between “paranoid” and non-“paranoid” reading—fatally constrains any useful hypostatization of critique’s limitations. In addition to a close engagement with the terms of Sedgwick’s “paranoid” diagnosis, this essay contextualizes Sedgwick’s intervention in hermeneutics, and Queer Theory specifically, in order to challenge the two major avenues of Sedgwick’s critical reception: in the reading debates, as “reparative” against “theory” tout court, and by Affect Theory, as beyond sexuality and therefore “post-psychological.” In an effort to sharpen the terms of the current reading debates, this essay further locates Sedgwick’s intervention in a broader tradition of “practical critiques,” by which I mean interventions made by critics against a theoretical apparatus that seems, to them, to compromise the “quality” of reading. This essay maps contemporary critical discourse onto two categories, "sociological" and "speculative" reading, in order to explain the differences between interpretive paradigms.
"The Misdiagnosis of Critique,"
Criticism: Vol. 61:
2, Article 4.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol61/iss2/4