Manifesto: Theorize, Criticize Experiment

Our rubric “Experimental Critical Theory” is meant to emphasize three correlated imperatives: “Theorize,” “Criticize,” and “Experiment.” The fundamental project of “theory” is to articulate models of analysis, interpretation, and conceptualization that express the general conditions of particular objects, relationships, or situations. Theory describes the systems and structures of knowledge, power, symbolic representation, and material exchange that operate within a wide range of social, political, and cultural fields. Moreover, theory establishes connections between distinct discursive and conceptual fields, allowing for truly interdisciplinary discussions to emerge around shared ideas and issues. If “theory” implies, among other things, the movement between particulars and universals, the attempt to bridge differences and create new alliances, critique insists on the limits of theory, the structural barriers that condition all acts of predication and interpretation. Critique questions the assumptions of the generalizations elaborated by theoretical projects, asking what remains undisclosed or unthought in their concepts and practices. Hence the phrase “critical theory” here is meant to describe both the attempt to generate common frameworks and the self-critical moments that must accompany any theoretical project, bringing it to bear on the conditions and limitations of its own possibility. Finally, the notion of experiment implies the urgency that critical theory expand beyond its history, beyond the received understanding of its proper practices, in order to propose new modes of critical reflection. To experiment is to welcome the possibility of new thinking, to establish the conditions for encountering ideas and phenomena that escape the formulations of previous paradigms. By taking experimentation and the uncertainty that it implies as part of the project’s conceptual and pedagogical imperative, moreover, we hope to engage a broader range of media than is usually associated with criticism and theory. Theoretical thinking and practice does not only happen in conventional disciplinary fields, but may take shape in a variety of material practices and artifacts. Hence by aligning our project with an ethos of experimentation often associated with the arts and sciences rather than the humanities, we intend to expand not only the range of objects under investigation but also the possibilities of theory itself as practice, as a form of creative activity responsive to developments both internal to its traditional fields and external, in areas of investigation not commonly associated with theory. The Project in Experimental Critical Theory is not meant merely to transmit existing knowledge to our students, but to invite them to participate with us in exploring and creating new possibilities for the future of theory.