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Author: Vladimir Biti

My point of departure is Rancière’s distinction between the police (la police) and politics (la politique), the first meaning an institutional order that establishes the borders of the political and the second an operation that persistently reconfigures this order in the name of equality. I interpret theory as the conflictual meeting ground of the consensual orientation of the police and the dissensual orientation of politics. It simultaneously precludes and enables emancipation, although it consistently denies the preclusion. This is why the policing dimension of its activity comes to the fore only retroactively. The case in point is ‘the death of Theory’ around 2000, which was accompanied by the discovery of its ‘terrorist character.’ As the first genealogies that followed this ‘death,’ Compagnon’s Le Démon de la théorie (1998) and Rabaté’s The Future of Theory (2002), point out, the fascination with it from 1965 to 1980 was induced by its revolutionary spirit. Yet both Compagnon and Rabaté, as if cautioned by the failed burials of modernism and the literary author that were proclaimed several decades ago, refuse to speak of the passing of theory by suggesting instead its reconfiguration. Elliott and Attridge in their volume Theory after ‘Theory’ (2011) claim that post-theory re-emerges precisely through the challenging of intellectual stances that were characteristic of Theory. Does this challenge imply the abandonment of Theory’s revolutionary stance too? Or should this stance be resumed in post-theory? If so, how can post-theoretical politics resist the post-theoretical police? I argue that post-theory ought to avoid the consensual manner of the police that aims at the sovereignty of the theorist and/or the subject of his/her interest by following the dissensual manner of politics that insists on the mutually dependent freedom of both constituents.

In: Policing Literary Theory
In: Policing Literary Theory
Author: Marko Juvan

Against the background of the policing power of the university discourse, the paper discusses the prototypes and general roles of charismatic theorists from the 1960s to the present in the contexts of transformations of the university from its Humboldtian type based in the importance of national culture to its late-capitalist subjection to the neoliberal mercantilization and globalization of knowledge. Focused on a case study of Slovenian literary theorist Dušan Pirjevec (1921–77) and the conditions of the communist policing of the university, the charisma of theory is explained as the theorist’s fascinating personal presence (working through the transference with the theorist as a “subject supposed to know”) that imbues his/her texts with a quasi-metaphysical quality transgressing both the boundaries of any disciplinary knowledge and the “bureaucratized” position of average university teachers. In Pirjevec’s case, the charisma of theory is patterned on the figure of critical intellectuals, whereas, in the neoliberal present, it is produced or reinforced within the global star system driven mostly by American universities and transnational scholarly publishing.

In: Policing Literary Theory
Author: Sowon S. Park

Damned to silence or condemned to compliance: these are the two options open to writers in North Korea – the ultimate police State, whose panoptic perfection of power is a living example of what Bentham and Foucault theorized. So as an example of how literature reacts to policing, or how it participates in it, North Korea may seem like a dead-end, providing little that could generate discussion about the varied and complex interplay between disciplinary mechanism and artistic will-to-expression. For one might assume, what is there to say about the 1984-like party-sanctioned Newspeak novels that faithfully and unswervingly patrol the borders of socialist-realist-nationalist-didacticism? Or about theories that line up to embody the ‘four legs good, two legs bad’ literary school of the loyal Orwellian sheep? But while the North Korean political classes continue to posture in unsplendid isolation from the rest of the world, there has been a growing exploration of ordinary lives under total policing that have produced more nuanced readings. This chapter examines how totalitarian policing shapes emotional identity in a North Korean defector’s memoir (by Shin DongHyuk) with reference to emotional authenticity, George Orwell and western ideals of public transparency.

In: Policing Literary Theory
In: Policing Literary Theory
Author: Yvonne Howell

Socialist realism was a powerful and pervasive mode of policing. By enforcing socialist realist strictures on all official narratives about the Soviet self – narratives about national identity, history, destiny, narratives about coming-of-age, relationships between family members and society, etc. – the mandated literary form reinforced a given perception of the world. When Gorbachev suspended literary censorship in 1986, the ussr was suddenly flooded with books and narratives that had been previously banned. These works were, almost by definition, not socialist realist. My paper focuses on Dudintsev’s novel White Robes [Belye odezhdy, 1987], a fictional account of the persecution of geneticists and the notorious policing of the biological sciences for ideological reasons.

Dudintsev’s overt condemnation of past policy and his heroic depiction of banned geneticists were sensational in the context of glasnost; however, this paper demonstrates that the novel retains the structural features of the classic socialist realist narrative. Therefore, although the criteria for who are the “good guys” (fruit fly experimenters) and who are the “bad guys” (Lysenkoists) have been inverted, I argue that the novel replicates a policing aesthetics, this time in the name of a romanticized Russian nationalism. This paper also engages Cristina Vatulescu’s thesis in “Police Aesthetics” by exploring the ways in which Dudintsev (a prominent writer) was influenced by the aesthetics of the police files that followed his life for decades.

In: Policing Literary Theory

Etymologically, spying is related to seeing, which further establishes its connection to police interpellation through which Althusser explains the formulation of a subject before the Unique Subject. Althusserian interpellation is theorized on the basis of the Lacanian model of “specular” (mirror-like) formation of a subject, which brings us back to the act of seeing and knowing (recognizing). As Lacan was suggesting the double vision in this model (i.e., mutual seeing), interpellation always-already involves counter-interpellation. In the proletarian Japanese literature the reader finds the moment when the imperial police force step down as the Absolute Subject to the criminal subject in the oppressive regime of the Empire. Such displacement of interpellation is more patent in the colonial situation as it involves the transgression of boundaries and, consequently, is more problematic. Sometimes the interpellation is evoked not so much by a colonizing Absolute Subject, but by a fellow colonial subject. In such a case a spy can be detected and reveal his/her identity and, thus, be interpellated, but he/she can still annul its meaning since the interpellation is not performed by the Unique and Absolute Subject, which establishes itself only through the political power of the State. This paper examines three narratives springing from the history of the Japanese Empire to explore the various ways in which Althusserian-Lacanian model of interpellation is revised or dislodged.

In: Policing Literary Theory
Author: John Zilcosky

Thinkers such as Adorno, Arendt, and Gide viewed Kafka as a predictor of the modern surveillance state, especially of Hitler’s Germany. Following Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations of nsa spying, journalists similarly cited Kafka as a prophet of today’s nsa (and British gchq). But Kafka, as always, complicates matters. As I argue here, Kafka’s information organizations seem at first glance to refute the nsa analogy, in two ways: Kafka’s bureaucracies are comically inefficient and his “victims” are not innocent. Kafka’s authorities overwhelm themselves with trivial evidence, stuffing cabinets with papers until nothing can be found, and his protagonists betray hints of possible guilt. But these two points end up paradoxically cementing the connection to the nsa, which, like Kafka’s system, has collected too much material to analyze, yet never ceases to claim that the innocent have nothing to fear. Because personal information is everywhere and because, like Kafka’s Josef K., we have all done something “wrong,” everyone is exposed to the threat that opens The Trial: to be devastatingly “slandered” out of the blue. This creates the modern paranoid subject, in our world and in Kafka’s. Kafka evokes this through plot but also through an enclosed third-person point of view, a radical form of free indirect style. This leaves us only with the protagonist’s viewpoint, yet still with the equivalent of the authoritative eye behind his/our head – a narratological “Über-Ich” (“above-I”) that is both in and outside, watching every move, also of itself, as the subject collapses.

In: Policing Literary Theory

The question of power legitimacy and violence justification opens this discussion of the logic, epistemology and rhetoric of espionage. Going from the logical status of the statement “I spy” to Peirce’s abduction and to Descartes’ methodical doubt, the argument leads to disjunctions between policing and spying, and to a discussion of the “reading in the crossfire,” a characteristic of modern cultures of suspicion. Spy fiction is focused on in the last section of the article, which contains forays into two types of spy-readers: Ian Fleming’s entertaining James Bond and, more significantly, John le Carré’s melancholy George Smiley. In his methodical trappings, Smiley shows to be as crafty as Ur-detective Oedipus in his defusing of both the Sphinx and himself.

In: Policing Literary Theory
Author: Péter Hajdu

Although theory is usually opposed to practice, literary theory many times performs the practical purpose of evaluating literary history and criticism. Not only theoretical texts may discuss what is allowed and what is forbidden when one speaks of literature, but debates, discussions, critiques also frequently use theory as a tool to prove that the other is wrong since they committed something theory forbids. Through such acts, theory emerges as the police of literary criticism, with those performing such acts implicitly claiming the power to reward the good and punish the naughty. This article analyzes some examples of forbiddance (the ‘fallacies’ of New Criticism) and reward (Mikhail Bakhtin’s survey of those scholars who at least partially realized the polyphony of Dostoevsky’s writing). The case study with which the article ends takes on the history of the Department for Literary Theory (at the Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), to show both the oppressive and the subversive potential of literary theory.

In: Policing Literary Theory