Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Passing by critique

David Herman asks if Prospect's list of the world's top 100 public intellectuals signals the demise of Said's "oppositional intellectual"? The list is predominantly American and British, although almost half of the list comprises U.S. residents. Only ten are women. Most work in strategic studies and policy. Gone are the representatives of the Great European cities and ideas, but more importantly, gone too are those people who "wrote prolifically, championed unpopular causes and w[ere] often linked to the revolutionary left."

"With Freud and Marx gone, what is left of the theory revolution? Outside the academy, virtually nothing. Ageing paperbacks full of long, incomprehensible words. No Homi Bhabha or Gayatri Spivak, no Hartman, Bloom or Fish. Baudrillard, Eco, Gates, Paglia and Slavoj Zizek are the last spear-carriers, and what a strange crew they make. Philosophy, too, has been routed. Dennett, Habermas, Nussbaum, Rorty, Singer and Walzer. Four from the American northeast. Again, such a list would have been inconceivable at almost any time in the 20th century."


Now I'm all for a changing of the guards, but I'm already alarmed at the lack of critical thinking in the world. Are these really the values we want to bring into the future? The people we trust to make our world a better place?

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I found the Prospect links above in an interesting post at Design Observer, which indirectly looks at critical design through the problem of design criticism:

"[D]esign's default position, which most designers accept, whether they create products or graphics, is to grease the wheels of capitalism with style and taste, as CalArts teacher and type designer Jeffery Keedy once put it. Design is deeply implicated. It is one of the ways in which capitalism is most obviously expressed, and never more so than today when design is widely regarded as a miracle ingredient with the power to seduce the consumer and vanquish less design-conscious competitors.

There is no reason why design criticism should not take a critical view of designís instrumental uses and its wider social role, or the lack of it, but there seems to be little motivation to produce this kind of criticism ... Instead, among the academics, there was vague talk about 'criticality' as a desirable goal. But criticality in relation to what? And to what end? How are designers going to become critical in any serious way if they are not exposed to sustained critical thinking about design in the form of ambitious, intellectually penetrating criticism? If design educators think as critically as they like to claim, why arenít more of them producing this kind of writing in an attempt to shape public awareness?"


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This reminds me of those cut-and-paste weblogs that end up listing project after project after project, turning design/tech into one giant (and oh-so-searchable) advertisement. Talk about greasing the wheels of capitalism and cool! Don't get me wrong: I am mostly bored to death by Naomi Klein. But where are the design and tech critics? What kinds of questions are they asking? And do they wear black turtlenecks?

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