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Guest Editor: James Corby; Journal for Cultural Research
In the context of any attempt to rethink the modalities, possibilities, conditions and limitations of critical thought, the otherwise sober and restrained notion of ‘critical distance’, with all its implications of unhurried reason and mastery, offers a compelling perspective on what is at stake.
The term itself can be understood in several ways. The familiar understanding still stands: critical distance is the perspective needed from an object or event for the appropriate sensitiveness, rigour and incisiveness in considering that object or event to be possible. This consideration might take the form of aesthetic appreciation, but more commonly notions of evaluation and judgement are intended. The implication in the case of the latter understanding is that for judgement or criticism to take place, a certain decisive distance is required.
But the term carries other connotations which, in this context, are no less significant: critical distance might be read as indicating that “distance” is somehow threatened or in crisis—on the critical list, as it were. This interpretation would, of course, have implications for the more familiar understanding: if distance is “critical” in the latter sense, is “critical distance” in the former sense also under threat? This invites further speculation on critical distance: for instance, “When does distance become critical?” A response to this question that is attentive to the different possible understandings of the term might be: “When it is most needed and least possible.”
Critical distance, then, seems already to prefigure Jameson’s judgement that “distance in general (including ‘critical distance’ in particular) has very precisely been abolished in the new space of postmodernism.”
What this special issue of the Journal for Cultural Research sets out to examine in particular, however, is how this crisis of critical distance might encourage various forms of radical disengagement—reclusiveness, secession, indifference—as a way of trying to safeguard or re-establish critical distance. What, especially, are the cultural manifestations, contexts, practices and implications of contemporary critical disengagement? What do we learn from those examples of the practice of disengagement, reclusiveness, indifference that can be identified or named, and which appear to be manifestoes for or experiments in what critical distance might be in 21st-century theory—and life? How, moreover, might the potential pitfalls of passivity and resignation be avoided? Can critical indifference ever be more than an empty gesture?
Proposals are invited that respond to this topic particularly from the perspectives of literary theory, continental philosophy and cultural criticism. Abstracts should be approximately 500 words in length and should be submitted with a brief bionote to James Corby (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 28 February 2013. Please write “CRITICAL DISTANCE” in the subject field of your email. Authors of selected abstracts will be notified by 31 March 2013 and invited to submit full-length articles by 15 December 2013. Final acceptance of articles will be subject to editorial screening and peer review.