A Letter from the Editors
This publication is proud to present its first issue to the Dartmouth community and beyond. Our hope, as an editorial collective, is that you will find yourself both deeply engaged and intellectually challenged by the words herein contained.
In the process of assembling this collection of writings, analyses, and reflections—as well as in the labor of creating a new vanguardist platform—a fundamental question arose: what, beyond perfunctory and elementary generalizations, is critique? Such a concept, we believe, will not submit to a universally applicable, succinct, or precise definition. Instead, we offer the following thoughts for your consideration as you reckon with the essays that follow.
First, drawing on Michel Foucault, we recognize that “resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power.” Critique is then necessarily situated within the structures of power and oppression towards which it is directed. Put differently, critique emerges from within the distortions and abuses of what feminist philosopher Allison M. Jaggar terms the “unjust meantime,” carrying with it a horizonal vision of transformation and revolution.
As such, we believe it is of utmost importance to refer to both theory and practice, not as distinct and peripherally related abstractions, but rather, as intimately connected and correlated concepts. In our view, in order to embody a spirit of critique, it is necessary to wrestle with both concepts as an interdependent pair. It is not enough to simply theorize from an ivory tower as we passively dwell in the unjust meantime. Instead, said theorization must be met with practice.
To take a step further, we must now ask what constitutes practice. Again, our question eludes a complete answer. Broadly, we recognize two general, overlapping dimensions to practice. The first of which is those practices that engage with our material or political reality. The second of which is what Judith Butler, in her reading of Foucault’s methodology, refers to as the process of self-forming. That is, the self-forming that occurs when the self “risks its deformation as a subject, occupying that ontologically insecure position which poses the question anew: who will be a subject here, and what will count as a life, a moment of ethical questioning which requires that we break the habits of judgment in favor of a riskier practice that seeks to yield artistry from constraint.” We do not recognize these attempted definitions of practice to be mutually exclusive nor do we present them as exhaustive. Further, we emphasize again that these practices, and the theory that informs them, emerges from within, and are thus implicated in, the systems, institutions, and discourses of power against which they are directed.
We believe, ultimately, that any work which challenges established conventions, proposes a new point of view, or goes beyond those who came before, is adding to the spirit of the new era—that which allows for critique to exist and thrive. However, these proposals and challenges must always point forward, never backwards. This specification is of great consequence, for, as Peruvian Marxist and cultural critic José Carlos Mariátegui argued, “the false faith and dogmatism found in the old order is often confused with the passionate, risky, and heroic faith of those who fight dangerously for the victory of a new society.” A project seeking to work towards the unity of theory and practice becomes futile, even counterproductive, if such theory—and the sentiments that guide it—are not critical, bold, and daring, completely unafraid to challenge the current order and all of its existing social conditions.
Critique, to us, thus means to be intentional and forward in our openly revolutionary and vanguardist spirit—defined as such because it unapologetically seeks to attack and break with oppressive and colonial structures, all the while proposing futuristic blueprints for a different type of world. That is the task of the present era.
Turning finally to the words herein contained, you will find first Thomas Knight’s reproach to Walter Benjamin’s reading of Parisian photographer Eugène Atget which addresses the intersection of ideology, academic scholarship, and aura. Second, Leah Casey explores the possibility of a space of alterity within Marxist materialism, questioning whether consciousness can be formed outside of the production of class consciousness. Next, Kendall Milender explores the Beatniks’ conflation of nature and feminine sexuality, employing Timothy Morton’s environmental aesthetics. Finally, Alexandra Limb engages in the scholarly debate on Milton’s gendered concepts of temptation, morality, and agency.
In closing, we thank the writers featured in this article who were so generous with their time and labor as well as the many others who submitted essays this cycle. We are grateful to Viktor Witkowski for allowing us to feature his artwork. We also thank the Department of English & Creative Writing and our faculty advisor, Alysia Garrison, for their support.
Memento Editorial Collective.