The first exhibit in this space shows how the defamiliarizing effects of close-seeing are transformative for the viewer. To transform the world, however, it is necessary to turn the gaze outward. In their final exhibit, students in this class developed their ways of seeing so as to critique, and not just behold, the world around them.
In this assignment, students in ENG 705 were presented with two options. The first was to produce an analytic essay. The second was to engage in critical making, producing projects that, like the essays, explore profound research questions by engaging new forms of argument and reflection.
To understand the achievement of their work, it is important to first address a question: what is critique?
Critique is “…an intervention, a resistance to conformity, a tool…” – Judith Butler
It might be helpful to begin by saying what critique is not. Critique is not the same as criticism. Its task is not to proclaim that an object of inquiry is either good or bad, for to do this would be to illuminate very little.
Critique is more nuanced. It proceeds from the simple assumption that the culture around us matters. It asks about how the culture around us mirrors or conceals a social reality, and then engages with that reality to expose or disrupt it.
Judith Butler describes critique as “an intervention, a resistance to conformity, a tool that can bring the production of truths into crisis. It disrupts secure foundations, interrupts the functioning of discourses…to reveal…complexity” (Butler).
In other words, critique can make abuses of power visible to our eyes, as in one student’s exhibit on domestic abuse, Marceleen Ehrig’s exhibit on the colonial origins of Skin Bleaching in Jamaica or Kristian Saflor’s exhibit about Masculinity Portrayed in Grand Theft Auto V, or Z.Ziaee’s video-essay on Bollywood’s Sexualization of Females.
“the critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles… the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather.” – Bruno Latour
However much critique has been framed as a method for exposing and dismantling structures of power, it must also be acknowledged as a powerfully productive force. Critique does not only stay vigilant about the public sphere; it reforms it.
This is why Bruno Latour, in a discussion about critique’s powers, writes that that “the critic is not the one who debunks, but the one who assembles. The critic is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naıve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather” (Latour 246).
Critical making can be a method of reaffirming what is redemptive about art, as Deanna Bucco does in her documentary film about body image in dancing, Pirouetting Perspectives: Looking At The Popular Portrayal of Dancers. It can be a form of scripto-therapy. In “Blackout,” Daniel Maluka uses both drawn and written forms as well as the materiality of the chapbook printed in reverse, with white on black, as both a personal and a political tool. Critical making can generate percussive effects on our habits of thinking. Karolina Fedorcio’s experiments with drawing over printed books to tell different stories in the tradition of Tom Philips, The / Eff / ect / of Non / Line / arity, strives to wrestle with the materiality of the printed word and the conventions of linear reading to do this.
As gathering places, these papers and projects invite both belonging and dissent. Our authors have grown their own thoughts, and taken them first to the classroom, and now to the intellectual community.
-Monique Tschofen, and Dan Browne Ryerson University, Department of English, (c) 2017
Butler, Judith, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak with Nikita Dhawan & María do Mar Castro Varela. “What is Critique?” 22 May 2011. http://www.frcps.uni-frankfurt.de/?page_id=2076
Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 20 (Winter 2004): 225-248.
Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purposes of research, private study, or education.