Closed Encounters: Literary Politics and Public Culture
by Jeffrey Wallen
University of Minnesota Press, 1998
Cloth: 978-0-8166-3187-2 | Paper: 978-0-8166-3188-9
Library of Congress Classification PN81.W286 1998
Dewey Decimal Classification 814.54


Closed Encounters was first published in 1998. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

It's committed. It's political. It's socially engaged. It's academic criticism in the nineties. But what does it achieve? In a provocative and fair-minded look at current critical practices and the future of the academy, Jeffrey Wallen draws a disturbing picture of public intellectuals in search of a public and cultural critics unable to enter a dialogue with others.

Wallen argues that literary politics is no substitute for debate on genuine political issues. Taking up several of the most influential critics of recent years-Edward Said, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michael Bérubé, Gerald Graff, Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish, and many others-Wallen asks: Can their desire to persuade an audience beyond the classroom be fulfilled? And can cultural critics realize their ambitious social and institutional goals for change? In a work that is neither of the Left nor of the Right, but likely to unsettle both, Wallen argues that literary criticism actually undermines the prospects for the dialogue it calls out for.

In addition, Wallen argues that the institutionalization of critiques of truth and difference-critiques that appear to liberate us by revealing that knowledge and values are constructed, and can therefore be transformed-often leads to a further constraining of thought and narrowing of outlooks. In his analysis of the administration of conflict, Wallen describes the troubled state of academic freedom and points to a shift from the institutional protection of dissenting views to the institutional protection from views one finds unpleasant.

Yet the prospects are not bleak: Wallen emphasizes that academic critics continue to play a crucial role in crafting what we expect from discussion. In this spirit, Closed Encounters lays the groundwork for fashioning a truly public, socially engaged criticism.

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