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On the critical gaze and devotion

Mary Zournazi: The movement in language is important and it opens another door or window to perception. But I suppose, as intellectuals, there is the problem of the codification of language within critical discourse and theoretical writing – where that language can stop movement and it can express everything in particular terms or methods that cut off the potential of understanding freedom or experience…”

Brian Massumi: ‘Critical’ practices aimed at increasing potentials for freedom and for movement are inadequate, because in order to critique something in any kind of definitive way you have to pin it down. In a way it is almost a sadistic enterprise that separates something out, attributes set characteristics to it, the applies a final judgment to it – objectifies it, in a moralizing kind of way. I understand that using a ‘critical method’ is not the same as ‘being critical’. But still I think there is always that moralizing undertone to critique. Because of that, I think, it loses contact with other more moving dimensions of experience. It doesn’t allow for other kind of practices that might not have so much to do with mastery and judgment as with affective connection and adductive participation.

Mary Zournazi: The non-judgmental is interesting… because you are always somehow implicated in trying to make judgments… To not make judgments in critical though is a very hard thing to do. It takes a lot of courage to move in that direction …

Brian Massumi: Well, it requires a willingness to take risks, to make mistakes and even to come across as silly. Critique is not amenable to that. And it suffers as a consequence. A critical perspective that tries to come to a definitive judgment on something is always in some way a failure, because it is happening at a remove from the process it is judging. Something could have happened in the intervening time, or something barely perceptible might have been happening away from the centre of critical focus. These developments may become important later. The process of pinning down and separating out is also a weakness in judgment, because it doesn’t allow for these seeds of change, connections in the making that might not be activated or obvious at the moment. Being attuned to these possibilities requires being willing to take risks. In a sense, judgmental reason is an extremely weak form of thought, precisely because it is so sure of itself. This is not to say that it shouldn’t be used. But I think it should be complemented by other practices of thought, it shouldn’t be relied on exclusively. It’s limiting if it’s the only or even the primary stance of the intellectual.”

– Massumi, Brian: Politics of Affect, Malden: Polity Press, 2015 (p. 14 – 15) originally from Zournazi, Mary: Navigating Movements. A Conversation with Brian Massumi, in: Hope, Routledge, 2002