The generational politics of critical theory

This observation from loc 785 of The Left Hemisphere: Mapping Contemporary Theory by Razmig Keucheyan caught my eye. His concern is with the intellectual implications of a generation’s dominance within critical thought:

The new critical theories have not been developed by ‘new’ theorists, if by that is meant biologically young intellectuals. There are, of course, young authors producing innovative critical thinking today, but the critical thinkers recognized in the public sphere are in most cases over 60 years of age and often over 70. The implications of this are not insignificant. However ‘contemporary’, these authors’ analyses are mainly the fruit of political experiences belonging to a previous political cycle –that of the 1960s and 70s.

But what about these young authors and their innovative critical thinking? How is its reception influenced by the prominence of these towering figures in their 60s and 70s? It seems obvious to me there are Matthew effects at work here, with it being easier for the already visible to accumulate visibility for their work. Furthermore, the crisis in monographs means that established intellectual brands are immensely appealing to publishers.

It would be a crass overstatement to accuse ageing critical theorists of squeezing out the younger generation through their frantic rate of publication, something which younger scholars are unable to match for all sorts of reasons. But rejecting this argument as a form of intellectual populism shouldn’t lead us to retreat from the underlying observation. There is a dynamic here which is of great significance for the character and influence of critical thought today.

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4 Comments

  1. Hey but doesn’t that seem sensible? I am not sure how old you are, but there are certain types of knowledge and just an ability to view that is generally only available through experience. Book knowledge and worldly knowledge and intellectual knowledge.. wow we can teach those and people can have a certain innate capacity I think to understand things and problem solve and stuff like that, but I think like say a 30-year-old PhD just doesn’t have as much to say as someone who is say 70 years old been doing the same field forever.

    I think there’s a certain amount of humility that we don’t have in our times. I mean like your reference staying the rockstar celebrity scholars. We do not value in-depth knowledge and we don’t really value time, we don’t value an actual participation in very thick or deep time.

    I mean even think about what we’re talking about on our other conversations . The idea that everything is contained in language or discourse is a very thin and insubstantial review upon the world . And I mean in general, academic knowledge and intelligence seems to gain its depth through a quite thin façade of meaning. It’s like I argue in one of my books, taking a bite into a ripe mango is not contained in knowledge, but somehow academia feels like I can talk about the experience of eating a mango and convey the depth of experience in that paper. Just as an analogy.

    I wonder if your post hair is really are going more towards career and identity status then it is really arguing towards a valid insubstantial rigorous knowledge of things.

    Because what’s wrong with being a rockstar? It’s the people that wish they were rock stars who have to play a club every night and get paid $1000 playing to two or 300 people that tend to complain about not being a rockstar. And when you think about what the purpose behind playing music is, The people to whom it is made don’t give a shit either way.

    Maybe it’s the same way with academics and theory.

    OK I’m done I’ll leave you alone.

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