Cover of Criticism and Politics by Bruce Robbins
Criticism and Politics
A Polemical Introduction
Bruce Robbins


September 2022
272 pages.
from $24.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503630192
Paperback ISBN: 9781503633209
Ebook ISBN: 9781503633216

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

An accessible introduction to cultural theory and an original polemic about the purpose of criticism.

What is criticism for? Over the past few decades, impassioned disagreements over that question in the academy have burst into the news media. These conflicts have renewed the culture wars over the legacy of the 1960s, becoming entangled in national politics and leading to a new set of questions about critics and the power they do or don't wield.

Re-examining theorists from Matthew Arnold to Walter Benjamin, to Fredric Jameson, Stuart Hall, and Hortense Spillers, Criticism and Politics explores the animating contradictions that have long propelled literary studies: between pronouncing judgment and engaging in philosophical critique, between democracy and expertise, between political commitment and aesthetic autonomy. Both a leftist critic and a critic of the left, Robbins unflinchingly defends criticism from those who might wish to de-politicize it, arguing that working for change is not optional for critics, but rather a core part of their job description.

About the author

Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Columbia University. He is the author of Secular Vocations: Intellectuals, Professionalism, Culture (1993), Perpetual War: Cosmopolitanism from the Viewpoint of Violence (2012), and, most recently, The Beneficiary (2017).

"Urgent, bracing, and powerfully argued, Criticism and Politics will be controversial in the best sense—inviting us all to debate the purposes and presumptions of criticism on newly articulated grounds."

—Caroline Levine, Cornell University, author of Forms

"This is a vivid, engaging, and engaged piece of literary criticism, as well as a vigorous defense of criticism as a method, by one of its foremost practitioners."

—Martin Puchner, Harvard University, author of Literature for a Changing Planet

"For those who have been looking for a book to address, head on, the complex connections between literary criticism and politics, this is that book."

—Mark Greif, Stanford University, author of Against Everything

"This challenging, bold book helps answer the question of what critics are for. Highly recommended"

—S. J. Shaw, CHOICE

"There's much combined intellectual-governance work to do in criticism's pursuit of power within current systems of knowledge. The importance of Robbins's book is to show that this work is part of criticism's past—while also insisting that it must be central to its future."

—Christopher Newfield, Los Angeles Review of Books

"[Robbins's] erudite discussion of different literary theorists and cultural critics (from Matthew Arnold to Judith Butler) makes the book an introduction of a unique kind: it is a history of criticism very unlike the ones that merely summarize arguments about different modes of reading texts as made by the theorists from the angle of political standpoints. It is polemical in the sense that it does not shy away from taking sides with critics or positions, even demonstrating intelligent ways of reading them that show tremendous courage in raising difficult questions of literature and criticism, not subscribing to the idea that criticism-as-fault-finding is a less than noble activity."

—Soni Wadhwa, South Atlantic Review