Recent critical discourse on “critique” tends to betray a certain discomfort with critique’s Enlightenment origins and its corresponding alignment with notions of autonomous subjectivity and universality. Especially since Bruno Latour’s broadside against critical “anti-fetishism,” supporters have been at pains to distance critique from the image of a self-satisfied vanguard chiding the unenlightened.
This paper stages a defense of critique that reclaims its Enlightenment lineage in order to assemble, in Mark Hulliung’s words, an “autocritique of Enlightenment.” Reading Kant and Marx via Kojin Karatani and Slavoj Žižek, I trace a line of thought in which critique foregrounds the intersection between theory and practice. It is at that intersection that the fetish appears. In contrast to Latour and some of critique’s defenders, I consider the fetish not a blind spot that immobilizes but a point of contact representing a practical commitment. Even Kant himself performs a “fetishistic disavowal” of sorts: I know very well that there is no empirical ground for metaphysical commitments, but nevertheless I will make them because it is the only way to live autonomously and foster others’ autonomy. In the symbolic order of capitalism, such “faith without belief” loses its intentional character, crystallizing in commodity fetishism as “the religion of everyday life.” Yet it also informs the Romantic view of the literary work as the site for a dialectic of truth and illusion, and Adorno’s thesis that a “fetish character” inhabits artworks no less intrinsically than commodities. This fetish character makes the literary text, like ideology, a particularly fitting object of critique. Herein lies the parallel between literary reading and the critique of ideology, and the reason why critique need not subordinate one to the other in order to be properly critical.
Coker, William N.
"How Practical Is Critique? From Matters of Concern to Matters of Commitment,"
Criticism: Vol. 63
, Article 1.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol63/iss3/1