The Critical Situation

The Critical Situation

Vexed Perspectives in Postmodern Literary Studies

By Robert T. Tally Jr

Anthem symploke Studies in Theory

The Critical Situation: Vexed Perspectives in Postmodern Literary Studies is concerned with the ways in which literary and cultural criticism are and have been situated in relation to a variety of ideological and institutional structures, including those of world literature, American studies, spatial literary studies, cultural critique, globalization and postmodernity.

EPUB, 274 Pages


March 2023

£25.00, $35.00

PDF, 274 Pages


March 2023

£25.00, $35.00

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About This Book

The Critical Situation: Vexed Perspectives in Postmodern Literary Studies comprises a diverse selection of essays that register the situated ness of critical theory and practice amid various intellectual, institutional, and cultural contexts. In recent polemics, postmortems or even celebrations, a number of prominent critics have suggested that “theory” is dead, that the heyday of literary or critical theory is past and its insights passé, and that other less speculative or abstract approaches to literature and literary criticism be embraced. At the same time, however, resistance to these trends in criticism has emphasized the degree to which modern critical theory remains essential for any proper analysis of the present condition. Today’s dynamic world-system, with its ever-shifting components in the age of globalization, presents new challenges to literary and cultural studies for which criticism and theory are ideally suited. That is because a fundamental virtue of critical and theoretical practice lies in its speculative vocation, as theory may offer novel vantages from which to view the past, present and future configurations, while disclosing fresh vistas of the world in which we are situated.

The Critical Situation emphasizes the need for, and the vibrancy of, theory today. The essays in this volume each address situations of critical theory and practice in various ways. Some are more methodological or analytical, others more historical, and still others more speculative, but all contribute to the argument in favor of theory as an essential part of literary studies in the present time. In the United States, the renewed resistance to theory has become somewhat tied to this or that conception of what have been labeled “method wars,” the battlelines of which indicate distinctive factions: those emphasizing historical investigations are then opposed by those insisting on the precedence of form or formalism, while others contest variations of both types of criticism in favor of some sense of unmediated or “surface” reading. These mostly parochial or academic debates have their counterparts in the broader culture, in which powerful forces determine the sense of what is worthy or not, what is real or what is fake or what is suitable for critical study or even attention. The reversal of the situation is, in a sense, built into the nature of the situation itself. At this point, theory enables the recognition that comes with the experience of peripety, an uncertain reversal of fortune which makes possible the suddenly novel perspective. 

The Critical Situation offers examples of situated criticism, which in turn are concerned with the ways in which literary and cultural criticism are and have been situated in relation to a variety of ideological and institutional structures, including those of world literature, American studies, spatial literary studies, cultural critique, globalization and postmodernity. These structures continue to influence the ways that criticism is practiced, and due recognition of their continuing effects seems to me to be crucial to the success of any meaningful critical practice in the twenty-first century.


“Robert T. Tally Jr’s new book contains important critical essays engaging with the major developments in ‘postmodern literary studies,’ with a visionary conclusion ‘An Anagogic Education.’ Tally proposes here how a Frye and Jameson can work together. Among recent books, there is no rival to Tally’s, in terms of wide coverage, in-depth analysis, and imaginative lucidity. To those new in the field and jaded veterans alike, I highly recommend The Critical Situation”— Daniel T. O’Hara, Professor of English and Inaugural Mellon, Professor of Humanities, Temple University.

“The Critical Situation could be titled ‘Prolegomena to a Critical Education.’ Under a bold initial reference to Sartre, it demonstrates how being aware of the situatedness of our readings liberates our subjectivity to embrace the long-term perspective of a radical, cosmopolitan humanism, unbound from the vagaries of one’s ‘national’ culture”— Didier Coste, Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature, Bordeaux Montaigne University.

“Taking vexation seriously as a generative mood for critique, this study offers probing and imaginative forays into our unsettled postmodern situation. In the face of the university’s depoliticization and commodification, Robert T. Tally Jr. reclaims literary criticism’s purchase on the world and its vocation to transform it” —Nicole Simek, Cushing Eells Professor of Philosophy and Literature, Whitman College.

Author Information

Robert T. Tally is Professor of English at Texas State University. His recent books include For a Ruthless Critique of All that Exists: Literature in an Age of Capitalist Realism (2022), J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit: Realizing History through Fantasy (2022) and Topophrenia: Place, Narrative, and the Spatial Imagination (2019).


Anthem symploke Studies in Theory

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Situation of Criticism; Part ICritical Positioning Systems, 1. Swerve, Trope, Peripety: Turning Points in Cultural Criticism and Theory; 2. The Aesthetics of Distance: Space, Weltliteratur, and Critique; 3. World Literature and Its Discontents; 4. Worlding Space: Spatial Literary Studies and the Planetary Turn; 5. In the File Drawer Labeled “Science Fiction”: Genre after the Age of the Novel; Part IIPost-Americanist Interpolations, 6. “Believing in America”: The Ideology of American Studies; 7. “Some men ride on such space”: Charles Olson’s Call Me Ishmael, the Melville Revival, and the American Baroque; 8. The Southern Phoenix Triumphant: The Consequences of Richard Weaver’s Ideas; 9. Bleeping Mark Twain?: Censorship, Huckleberry Finn, and the Functions of Literature; 10. I Am the Mainstream Media (and So Can You!): The Hyperreality of “Fake News”; Part IIIErrant Trajectories in Postmodern Critical Practice, 11. Nomadography: Gilles Deleuze and the History of Philosophy; 12. Power to the Educated Imagination!: Northrop Frye and the Utopian Impulse; 13. Edward Said and Marxism: Wars of Position in Oppositional Criticism; 14. An American Bakhtin: Jonathan Arac, or, the Vocation of the Critic; 15. Bathsheba’s Stomach: Poiesis and Criticism in Paul A. Bové’s Love’s Shadow; Conclusion: An Anagogical Education; Acknowledgments; Index


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