Reading and Writing As/if: US Literary Criticism and Identity
As/if: US Literary Criticism and Identity turns to early queer and third-wave feminist scholarship to identify a unique strategy and style of literary criticism, which I name as/if criticism. As/if criticism is both born of and resistant to two conflicting imperatives in the US academy, which first come to a fore during the 1990s. The first is the demand to write “as”: that is, the institutional demand that critics use their gender, race, sexuality, etc. as credentials of authentic knowledge. The second is the demand to write “as if”: that is, the post-structuralist demand that critique suspend the idea of knowable or stable identity. Challenging both of these demands, as/if criticism employs four different strategies—recognition, qualification, intimacy, and interruption—in order to disrupt identity as it is produced and valued as a knowable category within literary criticism. Taking five authors as case studies, I examine Eve Sedgwick’s compendium of queer critical essays, Tendencies (1993); Deborah McDowell’s debut work of black feminist criticism, The Changing Same (1995); Barbara Johnson’s deconstructive take on race and gender, The Feminist Difference (1995); and Robert Reid-Pharr’s innovative critical essay collection, Black Gay Man (2001). Over the course of its chapters, As/if: US Literary Criticism and Identity makes the case that as/if criticism is well-suited to describe fraught social bonds, experimental allegiances, and unintuitive cross-identifications because its style mirrors the substance of its argument.
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