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2006 115-133



The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy*


Jikwan Yoon (Duksung Womens University)

Criticism Reemerged
David Simpsons article in a recent issue of the New Left Review has shown that aftershocks from the several-year controversy on the idea of culture between Francis Mulhern and Stefan Collini in the journal have yet to diminish. The debate began with Collinis sympathetic but edgy review of Mulherns Culture/Metaculture (2000). Mulhern, as he defined in his book, had made bold claims of a hidden continuity between cultural criticism and Cultural Studies.1) In Culture/Metaculture Mulhern put these two discourses of culture into a common category of metaculture, which he holds is to make a symbolic resolution of politics as such. On the one hand this categorization was bold enough in its deliberate challenge to the supposed political orientation of the dominant forms of Cultural Studies, with their emphasis on the materiality of culture and its embedded ideological characters. On the other hand, Mulherns designation of cultural criticism as metaculture is not new; rather, it confirms the widely acknowledged death of cultural criticism.
* This research was supported by the Duksung Womens University Research Grants of 2005. 1) Mulhern distinguishes between the two Studies. The former covers the tradition including such British critics as Matthew while the latter indicates British Cultural modes of cultural discourse: Kulturkritik and Cultural of cultural criticism in Europe since the 19th century Arnold, F. R. Leavis, T. S. Eliot and Richard Hoggart, Studies the central figure of which is Stuart Hall.

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Interestingly, the debate between Collini and Mulhern has foregrounded the project of cultural criticism, along with its practical significances, while blurring the topics related to Cultural Studies, though, as Collini acknowledged, Mulhern originally devoted more effort to the latter. Setting aside the question of the debates productivity, I think the debate is an interesting and thought-provoking event that has filled the pages of a left-wing journal with dubious, phantom-like Arnoldian terms such as criticism, distance and disinterestedness. Having long ago disappeared from left-wing terminology, these terms have subsequently been adopted by other writers including liberals, humanists, and traditionalists among them. The triumphant but seemingly temporary reemergence of these terms is primarily due to Collinis successful strategy of sparking a debate on his favorite topic of cultural criticism and, in part, to the sincere and valuable responses of the Marxist critic Mulhern. In the early stage of the debate, however, Mulhern reveals an impulse to exorcise the phantoms, as manifested in his rather impatient and condescending tone (originating from a leftist Olympian attitude?). A similar attitude is found in Simpson, who, joining the debate later with a brief and rather biased comparison of the writing styles of the two antagonists, glosses over Collinis agenda in favor of Mulherns. However, Simpson defends Cultural Studies echoing a formulated defense of its politicality: he presumes an easy identification of politics and culture and simply reminds us of the political foundation of cultural institutions. Simpsons writing shows the typical response of a cultural leftist: he dismisses cultural criticism or criticism in general as bourgeois and elitist, yet resists efforts to put Cultural Studies, at least in its structuralist and post-structuralist form, into the same camp as cultural criticism. Nevertheless, as Mulhern himself reiterates, though elements of cultural criticism have permeated Cultural Studies and even negated their directives, its persistence intimates the possibility that it is inseparably fused with modern life and society. The Mulhern-Collini controversy deserves to get more theoretical concern for it can reignite the imagination and practices of the Left with such repressed things as the Arnoldian idea of criticism. At the risk of being labeled anachronistic, I think it is important to look again at the traditional concept of criticism, which has been marginalized in the contemporary Anglo-American

The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy

cultural discourses. Can the Arnoldian idea of criticism be revitalized? Can it significantly affect the thinking of the Left in the debate on culture? Some have condemned the idea of criticism as being void of content or too pure to be applied to politics, while others have condemned it as being too full of bourgeois ideology.2) Such contrasting critiques reveal a common fault of the Left when they write about the Arnoldian idea of culture and criticism. The idea of criticism may have originated in a bourgeois society and may have been ideologically involved in it, but that does not necessarily mean that it is possible to erase the idea from leftist thinking. Rather, the bourgeois origin of criticism itself can enable it to cope with the existing bourgeois system and its contradictions. Even in todays globalized world, where the bourgeoisie and its ideology increasingly prevail, the role of criticism can not only survive but be reinvested.3)

Criticism as a Political Practice

One of the central issues in the Mulhern-Collini debate is whether cultural criticism, or Kulturkritik as Mulhern calls it, could have any practical significance in real politics. Mulhern says that Kulturkritik attempts to mediate a symbolic metapolitical resolution of the contradictions of capitalist modernity(Beyond Metaculture 169), and thereby normatively prioritizes culture over politics. According to Mulhern, cultural criticism has an internal strategic impulse to displace or resolve politics. In comparison with such a dichotic opposition of culture and politics, which Collini describes as a zero sum game, Collinis suggestion that culture and criticism can engage with politics in a limited way seems more understandable. Given Mulherns relentless denial of any possibility of cultures engagement with "politics as such," there is a fundamental difference between these two theorists which
2) See Eagleton 61. 3) For example, in the South Korean situation, the critical tradition of Arnold and Leavis offered a major theoretical impetus to progressive literary ideas and movements, and it still stands at the center of debate. This situation, however peculiar it may seem from a Western perspective, shows that the traditional ideas of culture and criticism can provide a practical and theoretical basis upon which a transformative movement in society can gather force. See my writings on this subject, Fly, Criticism (1997), The Origin of the Philistine Criticism (2001), and Those Who Are Possessed by Foucault (2001) which are reprinted in my book,

Under the Brass Sky.

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goes beyond their contrary ideological stances: they have a fairly different understanding of what politics, or political practice, is and should be. The antipathy against criticism and culture among those who prefer an immediate engagement and political practice has a long history that goes back to the dispute among mid-Victorian intellectuals over the function of criticism and the idea of culture. Indeed, Mulherns accusations against cultural criticism, such as non-practicability and transcendental, remind us of a critique by the utilitarian J. F. Stephen, who described the Arnoldian ideas of criticism and culture as a transcendental theory of philosophy (Coulling 144). What is significant in this contemporary version of the function of criticism debate is that the opponent of criticism is a Marxist whose principal concern is with the legacy of cultural criticism. Mulherns Marxist position opens new vistas in the old debate, a feat that Arnolds adversaries, the Comtist and Utilitarian bourgeois ideologues, failed to do in their full rejection of the idea of criticism as apolitical and impractical. From his vantage point, Mulhern has imposed on himself the theoretical task of relating the ideas of culture and criticism to the Marxist paradigm, and his suggestion of cultural politics is the result. For in his idea of cultural politics, the discrepancy between culture and politics opens the possibility of certain creative interrelations and engagements. However, his double position, denying any meaningful political function of cultural discourses and recruiting its force in the name of 'cultural politics' may lead to a disadvantage when it allows, as it sometimes does, theoretical fluctuation between the two opposing modes and forms of logic. Collini is correct in questioning this fluctuation as vague. In his latest article in the debate, Collini pointed out that Mulhern replaced his own version of cultural politics with a total denial of the possibility of any legitimate form of cultural criticism(Politics 71) and that Mulhern does not fully recognise this fact. Although Mulhern condemns that culture as a principle illegitimately resolves politics and that the whole culture-oriented project is the end of politics, he does not seem to deny that the tradition of cultural criticism has significantly affected the formation of modernity of which politics had played a great part. Where does this vagueness or duplicity come from? To answer this question, one must start with the common ground of the two opponents. Despite many explicit contrasts, they inherently seem to agree on the essential non-identity

The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy

of politics and culture. Both writers consider politics and culture as separate spheres, though they use different expressions: Mulhern calls the difference a discrepancy; seperateness Collini functions calls as a it disjunctiveness. timely corrective Their to the emphasis dominant on the cultural

tendency of conflating or even identifying the two spheres. However, there remains a more difficult and important task of elucidating how to establish a real and living connection between the two spheres. In their struggle for this connection, they seem to share some symptoms of failure which are brought about by their common poverty of criticism. To borrow the phrases Mulhern uses in his description of metaculture, Mulherns poverty of criticism is the result of a declared principle, while Collinis is a self-defeating final implication (Culture/Metaculture xix). In his defense of of culture and criticism, for it Collini requires advocates the the political that significance cultural criticism, presumption

disciplined reflection partly grounded in an extensive intellectual and aesthetic inheritance can furnish a place to stand in attempting to engage critically with the narrow pragmatism (or specialism) of any particular political programme (Culture Talk 46). Moreover, against Mulherns definite No to this critical engagement with politics, Collini protests that he modest its proposal, on the ground that reflection as such cannot affect anything, even a limited contribution to the narrow pragmatics of politics. Here again, Mulherns attitude echoes the anti-Arnoldian attacks of Victorian utilitarians, though Collinis change. In his advocating the political function of criticism, Collini deserves to be placed in the line of the Arnoldian idea of culture. However, his modest and inevitably eclectic stance implies a reservation about the possible intervention of criticism. In fact, he ends up denying any possibility of transformative effects that disciplined reflection can have in social and political movements. Collinis tautological dictum intellectual practice is intellectual practice may be a logical conclusion of his restrictive understanding of critical potentials. This view differs radically from Leaviss sanction of (literary) criticism as a locus of critique within the technologico-Benthamite civilization. It also differs greatly from the Arnoldian idea of using criticism for urgent fights and response also sounds like a retreat from Arnolds project of privileging critical reflection as something necessary and urgent for social

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as a most efficient weapon against the dominant Philistinism. Moderate and realistic, Collinis understanding of the function of criticism deprives of culture and criticism much of the practical energy that the more militant proponents think they have. And, worse, it makes it impossible to search for an integration of the idea of culture and criticism with leftist thinking. The retreat by Collini incites Mulhern to detect lacunae in Collinis eclectic attitude and declare that criticism has no place in politics. Hence, Collini and Mulhern stand again on the same ground. They push the idea of criticism back into its self-referentiality, forever excluding it from the sphere of politics as such. Mulherns concept of politics as such is double-edged: on the one hand, it successfully avoids the fallacy of reducing everything to politics; on the other hand, it tends to obliterate any possibility of overcoming the dichotomy between culture and politics. By this concept, he tries to designate the material sphere where the more essential class struggle for hegemony in the totality of social relations goes on; and he combines this idea with a socialist solution to the basic contradictions of a capitalist society, which are represented by the working class movement. However, on could ask if the struggle in the level of culture is ever entirely disappeared from the process of politics as such. That is, is the cultural struggle ever excluded from the organization of actual alignments along political lines? At every moment of a struggle such critical and cultural activities as objective judgment and persuasion should be practised. Furthermore, the real strength of the forces mobilized for movements significantly depends on cultural resources, the formation of which is based on everyday cultural practices and on the participation of cultural institutions at various levels of society. Wars of position in a Gramscian sense have become more essential in the transformation project, not only for Western countries but for a third world or a semi-peripheral country like South Korea. Simpsons point about journals, books, and newspapers being a workplace is correct in this sense, as is his proposition that not only politics as such but even classrooms can be arenas of politics. However, even if we follow Simpson and acknowledge that classrooms do not simply reproduce the social dominants but rework a set of finite social relations with unpredictable social outcomes (74), we cannot avoid asking a few basic questions, if not even inquire into the degree of that unpredictability. For instance, what is

The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy

the content of the struggle that occurs in a classroom, and how vigorous is the struggle? Simpson, however, is symptomatically silent about this. It is one thing to identify a classroom as political ground; it is another to understand the difference between Simpson's classroom (teaching and writing about Cultural Studies) and, for example, Leaviss classroom (training a critical mind). It is crucial to consider which type of classroom produces more effective politics in the long run. Talking about cultural workers, Simpson supposes the existence of politics as such in some adequate self-consciousness on the part of teacher/writer (without which there is only ideology, as there is everywhere else) (77). However, although self-consciousness can be political consciousness, in that it refers to a persons sense of his or her own political position, I doubt whether self-consciousness is necessarily accompanied by a recognition of the sphere beyond ideology. A sense of position can not help being ideological if it does not contain a radical recognition of something beyond. A project of enhancing or preserving the creativity that has been systematically threatened with nullification, against which a Leaviss classroom fights in its own way, may be more resourceful for a long-term mobilization even in the realm of politics as such. The same can be said for the question of communication. Disciplined reflection becomes public through communicative forms, written or spoken, which are materialized in cultural institutions such as journals. The effort to democratize forms of communication is important. So, too, is the everyday struggle of writers to fill the space given to them (sheet of paper,

etc.) with creative elements and produce some resources available for the
fight against the capitalist system, under which most forms of communication currently operate.

Beyond the Dichotomy of Culture and Politics

Mulherns emphasis on the hidden continuity between cultural criticism and Cultural Studies invites us to rethink the similarities and differences of the two types of cultural discourse. Prioritizing culture ahead of politics, as Mulhern suspects common in both of the types, causes a conceptual problem only as it hinders the achieving a proper access to the multileveled meanings

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of culture and politics. This is why Collini criticizes Mulherns tendency to subsume all of the discourses on culture into a single category of metaculture. According to Mulhern, culture in principle questions the notion of politics as such, doing so in the following manner: in the declared principle, in the case of Kulturkritik, or as a self defeating final implication, in the case of Cultural Studies. Furthermore the latters political assault on high-cultural privilege has turned out to be, at the same time, a renewed attempt at a cultural dissolution of politicsa popular leftist mutation of metacultural discourse(Beyond Metaculture xix-xx). It is necessary here, however, to more elaborately distinguish among the different paths that the two different cases of authorizing the culture in principle take in the process of dissolving politics as such. Kulturkritik, declared as it may be, always leaves its mission of dissolving politics unfulfilled; Cultural Studies, on the other hand, through its permeation of culture, leads to the dissolution of politics. When Arnold, whom Mulhern regards as a central figure in the Kulturkritik mode, suggested the idea of disinterestedness, which refers to a sense of detachment from short-term political practices; he presented the idea as a way of coping with and resisting dominant and powerful bourgeois ideologies, such as utilitarianism and individualism. The notion of nullifying politics as such seemed to be simply impossible to Arnold. In this sense, the prefix meta is more suitable for Cultural Studies than for cultural criticism, at least in terms of the cultural criticism envisioned by Arnold. The proposition here, in contrast to Mulherns, is that the relationship between cultural criticism and Cultural Studies is best characterized by discontinuity rather than continuity. Moreover, while cultural criticism has never declared that politics will entirely dominate culture, Cultural Studies insists on the ubiquitous presence of culture. The discontinuity between the two approaches centers on the question of quality and value. As Mulhern himself rightly comments, Cultural Studies favor a strictly egalitarian ethic of attention within them. . . . without any presumptive test of quality (Culture/Metaculture xviii). A greater amount of emphasis should be put on this opposition of egalitarianism and a quality-oriented mind rather than subsuming the two discourses of culture into a single category when they are contrasted. An introduction of the structuralist view of culture as signifying practices

The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy

brought out of









endowing the latter with more scientificity by putting the question of quality consideration. By weakening an element of critical recognition and strengthening that of systematic understanding, Cultural Studies entered into the circle of a theoretic network and therefore increase its discursiveness. By significantly incorporating the Gramscian ideas of hegemony and civil society to cultural theory, Cultural Studies has developed its project of interpreting political agendas at a given conjuncture. However, a textualizing impulse in Cultural Studies sweeps over to reduce the uttered political orientation into textual practice, turning the hegemonic struggle into a matter of winning hegemony within textual spheres. Mulhern also criticizes the textual orientation of Cultural Studies but he does not recognize the possibility that this fatal retreat into textuality may, at least partly, be caused by an exclusion of criticism from the discussion on culture. When pure theoreticism and purely strategic thinking are considered as the two other sides of one coin, a powerful objection against Mulherns idea might be found in the following statement of his own on a paradox: culture, as it enters directly into the a sphere of political practice, negates 103). It its may ideal be self-image, becoming tactic(Beyond Metaculture

important to think about the ontology of this paradox, especially in terms of overcoming the dichotomy of culture and politics. The paradox seems to be inspired by the everyday experience of subjects, whether an individual or a group, in their struggle in specific historical moments and movements. Mulhern himself implies his inclination to strategic thinking when he describes political practice as trans-cultural in its reworking of values as demand, sometimes promoting given identities and preferences, sometimes rearticulating or disturbing or backgrounding them, according to judgements based on a socially determinate programme and strategy(103). One can dwell on Mulherns idea of judgments based on a socially determinate programme and strategy. Any judgments cannot be done properly irrespective of social condition, but if not to fall into a mechanical reflection of a given determination, a vital consciousness is needed in order to see things as they really are. This very consciousness is called a spirit of criticism, as Arnold said, which applies fresh ideas to the fixed things as freely as possible. For, even if political practices in the hegemonic struggle should be strategically


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performed, there must be the moments when some creative breakthroughs, rather than predetermined responses, are more demanded. Gramscis short-term distinction between ones long-term highlights organic the social movements strategies and and contingent multileveled

programmes that correspond to the various phases of social transformation. The strategy with a longer and deeper dimension demands a more vital connection to cultural practices as it should cover the total grasp of human activities. Though politics, as Mulhern said, concerns a fight that determines social relations as a whole, those social relations are inescapably connected to human ontological conditions. Thus, the moment of genuine transformation necessarily involves a combination of individual self-realization and social liberation. Mulhern suggests cultural politics as an alternative to the practices of Cultural Studies, but it is too deeply inclined to strategic thinking to entail an ontological side of human conditions. The two dangers of culturalism and politicism can be evaded, not by equating culture and politics without mediation, but by reinvigorating the critical spirit to overcome the poverty of criticism. Here the Arnoldian function of criticism is met again. As was mentioned earlier, the Arnoldian ideal of disinterestedness, a state of mind that can make a judgment that is free from sectarian interests, has been open to accusations of both apoliticality and strong ideological features. However, such critiques do not exhaust the potential of this ideal for rethinking the relationship between culture and politics. They seem to be contradictory but are concordant in their limited understanding of what the idea of disinterestedness accomplishes in coping with the contemporary bourgeois society.4) Here, it is suggested that the idea of disinterestedness can be reconceptualized in such a way that is possible to recruit from it a

transformative potentiality. It is especially interesting that Collini tried to relate Arnold to Marx for the purpose of defending cultural criticism, but I would like to go further and propose theoretic connections between the Arnoldian concept of criticism as disinterestedness and Lukacss thesis on the unification of the objectivity and the partisanship. Such connection may sound bold in its intention to subvert the long-established opposition between the two but it is necessary to consider what the Arnoldians and Lukascians have
4) On a detailed discussion of this, see Yoon, Culture and Criticism 89-108.

The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy


in common in terms of their understanding of the individual and social being. The Arnoldian idea and the Lukacsian thesis both look towards some sphere of unification or final fulfillment that can overcome the dichotomy of the individual and society, whether in social practices or in artistic works. To elucidate this point, the two cases mentioned in the Mulhern-Collini controversy can be used, both of which seem to be pertinent to this issue: one case refers to the young Marx; the other refers to the interpretation of a literary work, especially a novel. One of the most interesting examples that Collini uses for his defense of cultural criticism is the case of the young Marx: his 1844 Manuscripts, which reflects his encounter with the German romantics, bears a sort of family resemblance to Arnolds

Culture and Anarchy. While pointing out that

nourishment drawn from culture significantly contributed to Marxs later development, Collini tries to prove that the two realms of culture and politics, though disjunctive, are not condemned to eternal non-communication. The juxtaposition of Marx and Arnold inevitably incites Mulherns objection. In emphasizing the radical difference between the two thinkers, Mulhern says that while Arnolds imagination never crossed the boundary of the bourgeois state, Marx saw in the same society the conditions of a qualitatively superior collective life beyond it, to be achieved by political means (What Is Cultural Criticism? 41). In the current analysis, it is agreed that Arnold lacked both a transformative vision and a systematic understanding of the social structure. However, although Mulhern criticizes Collinis tendency to elevate critical thinking over positional thinking, he forgets that by denying the possibility of considering both Marx and Arnold together, he also marginalizes "a third possibility" as a way of overcoming the strict distinction between critical thinking and positional (or strategic) thinking. It is held that the critical elements in the

Manuscripts principally originate from Marxs endeavor to retain and utilize a

rational core of Schillers idea of aesthetic education that is one of the origins of cultural criticism. In thinking about the objective historical process, Marx tried to graft the Schillerian ideal of the aesthetic man (that is, the latters Utopian vision of the society where this ideal will be fulfilled) with critical understanding of the concrete reality (that is, the capitalist society dominated by property relations). This attempted synthesis


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cannot be rejected simply as a fallacy of the young Marx. Even The Capital itself is oriented towards a disinterested scientific reflection that differs from the bourgeois interests that are represented by his contemporary political economists. Going back to Lukacs, it is possible to add that his emphasis on the necessity of self-criticism differs from Collinis assumption of the fundamental non-relatedness between disinterestedness and partisanship; it also differs from Mulherns overall prioritization of positionality. Lukacs suggests that impartial self-criticism on the internalized devastating and degrading effect (81) of the capitalist system nourishes people and gives them class consciousness, which in turn gives them the potential to overcome the reified reality. Comments by the two discussants on literary works clearly reveal their common problem in thinking about a third possibility. Mulhern exemplifies his proposition that the sphere of art and ideas also takes shape and direction in the same divided historical world of sense that frames prevailing public discourse, with the Raymond Williams analysis of English industrial novels and Hardys Jude the Obscure. Williams thinks that in the English industrial novels a strong, and eloquent witness to the reality of working-class suffering coexisted, imaginatively, with an ungovernable fear of mass irrationality. In Hardys novel, Williams finds that a critique of the prevailing social order of culture was mixed with the ambiguity of its truncated biblical motto (What Is Cultural Criticism? 38). According disturbance to Mulhern, the the vision of literature does not in easily the escape stronger when literature becomes reflective

sense(What Is Cultural Criticism? 38). However, is the disturbance of vision in itself, especially in Jude the Obscure, necessarily a limitation in the reflexivity of a novel? Or does the disturbance of vision come from the insight of a creative writer who reaches beyond the mundane perspective of living? Mulhern seems to neglect such questions. Williams, on the contrary, tries to elucidate the general structure of feeling of the society that the novel describes; in particular, he tries to balance the recognition of evil with the fear of being involved. Furthermore, his analysis contains a critical judgment that the sentimental coexistence of fear and pity produces artistic failure. To illustrate this point, Williams distinguishes George Eliots Middlemarch from an industrial novel, such as Felix Holt. In Middlemarch Eliot naturally sees the society at a deeper level than its political abstraction indicates (118). Mulhern shows little interest in the different levels of the novels achievement and

The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy


his generalization that the reflection of the novel must reveal a disturbance of vision may negate all the theoretical assumptions of realism in literature. In this sense, at least, Collini is more to the point when he says that the novel does not offer a single, unambiguous, analysis of a given social issue but, rather, an imaginative coexistence of different planes or registers of experience (On Variousness 74). However, Collini's "imaginative coexistence" remains insufficient to cover the true complexities of a society that mature realism is supposed to represent in its, say, typicality in a Lukacian sense. Although seemingly different in their understanding of literary works, Mulhern and Collini are both far from Lukacs thesis on the unity of objectivity and partisanship that, Lukacs suggests, only a successful realist work can accomplish. They are also both far from Leavis insight on the way truth is formed or revealed by truly excellent works of art. In respect of the relationship between the achievement of literature and the depth of their understanding of reality, Lukacs and Leavis are on one side while Mulhern and Collini are on the other. The grouping is no mere accident; both Lukacs and Leavis, despite positional differences, understand the centrality of the critical faculty in overcoming the dichotomy between culture and politics. Moreover, they share a concern about literature as a creative act that can make the idea of disinterestedness real.


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Works Cited
Arnold, Matthew. The Function of Criticism at the Present Time. The

Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold.

Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1960-1977.

Ed. R. H. Super. Vol. 3. Ann

Collini, Stefan. Culture Talk. NLR 7 (2001): 43-53. ______. Defending Cultural Criticism. NLR 18 (2002): 73-97. ______. On Variousness; and on Persuasion. NLR 27 (2004): 65-97. Coulling, Sidney. Matthew Arnold and His Critics. Athens: Ohio UP, 1974. Eagleton, Terry. The Function of Criticism. London: Verso, 1984. Lukacs, Georg. History and Class Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971. Marx, Karl. The Capital. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976. Mulhern, Francis. Culture/Metaculture. London: Verso, 2000. ______. Beyond Metaculture. NLR 16 (2002): 86-104. ______. What Is Cultural Criticism? NLR 23 (2003): 35-49. Simpson, David. Politics as Such? NLR 30 (2004): 69-82. Williams, Raymond. Culture and Society. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973. Yoon, Jikwan. Under the Brass Sky. Seoul: Changbi, 2001. ______. Culture and Criticism in the Modern Society. Seoul: Changbi, 2003.

The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy


The Poverty of Criticism: On the Mulhern-Collini Controversy

Abstract Jikwan Yoon

This essay, by engaging with the recent debate on the idea of culture and criticism between Francis Mulhern and Stefan Collini in the New Left Review, proposes to revaluate the relationship of culture and politics. The debate started with Collinis review of Mulherns Culture/Metaculture, the main point of which is to categorize Kulturkritik(cultural criticism) and Cultural Studies into metaculture, whereby the social contradictions are to be symbolically resolved. Collini responded by emphasizing the political significance of cultural criticism. Indeed, the debate addressed much more comprehensive issues such as the relationship between culture and politics and the social function of intellectual discourses as well. This essay attempts to point out that both Mulhern and Collini, while agreeing on the non-identity of culture and politics, lack an adequate conception of connecting them and of evoking the transformative potentials embedded in the traditional idea of criticism as disinterestedness. This essay also argues that mainstream Cultural Studies, as long as it tends to neglect the question of value in the discussion of culture, cannot offer a proper way of understanding the function of criticism.

Key Words cultural criticism, Cultural Studies, metaculture, disinterestedness, function of criticism, the idea of culture