The Value of Critique


19-20 January 2017

Concept: Isabelle Graw and Christoph Menke

Dürerstraße 10
60596 Frankfurt am Main

The title „The Value of Critique“ refers to two different modes of practicing judgment: critique and value (or evaluation). Lately, many theorists have said Farewell to Critique, advocating alternative attitudes of judgment that could be labeled as practices of value or valuing – which are (or were) precisely those attitudes against which the tradition of “critique” has established itself. The aim of the conference is to explore the relation between these two modes of thinking and practicing judgment. Especially, we want to ask if, and how, it is possible to overcome their traditional opposition.

Here is a (highly) schematic way of describing this antagonism. According to it, critique is the paradigmatic enlightenment strategy of judgment whereby a subject establishes itself and thus its freedom precisely by grounding (or claiming or pretending to do so) itself in the object of its judgment. To criticize in this sense means: to gain freedom over and against an object, a situation, a condition, in short: the world, by turning it against itself; by claiming that it is contradictory in itself and thus by mobilizing it against itself. The concept of value, on the other hand, refers to an act of evaluation which is openly and avowedly partial and perspectival – the act of measuring, in which a living being expresses the utility of something in the world for it, i.e. its flourishing. Evaluation is about the enhancement of the evaluating living being, about increasing its life-forces, its ability to live (or survive).

The antagonism between critique and value (or evaluation) should thus be obvious. From the perspective of value, critique is the strategy by which the enlightenment subject seeks to empower itself, merely pretending to let “die Sache selbst” (Hegel) speak. From the perspective of critique, on the other hand, the model of value or evaluation has surrendered already from the start to the endless circle of the immanence of life, be it biological or economical. Evaluation stands in the service of self-preservation or -enhancement.

Is this mutual denunciation the last word about critique and value? Do we have to decide between the two, and can we? If one traces Criticism back to its etymological origin (Kritiké) and understands it as a way of separating and differentiating, its evaluative dimension becomes quite obvious. As soon as the critic selects an object as worthwhile her interest and time, she has indeed contributed to it being potentially considered valuable. Criticism is therefore implicated in the formation of value, but it also traditionally aims at questioning existing values. Theories of value are usually marked by a similar critical impetus, and one could go so far as to say that Critique is their modus operandi. As much as Critique takes part in the formation of Value, Value seems to trigger Critique.

Furthermore, both concepts share a metonymic structure: Criticism refers to an object that is outside of it as much as the critic might be deeply affected by it. A similar displacement occurs in Value since there is no „intrinsic value“ as Marx underlined. Value is relational and therefore always to be found elsewhere. But despite its metonymic nature Value needs to get materialized – it has a form, and this renders it similar to the objects of Criticism.

But despite Criticism’s strength as a relational concept it is currently said to have lost its transformative power in a New Economy that is busy absorbing it. We would like to propose a less pessimistic and less totalizing account by distinguishing between different types of Critique and their respective situative potential (such as Luc Boltanski’s model of „Social Critique“, Bruno Latour’s “Critique of Critique”, Rahel Jaeggi’s „Internal Critique“ , Beate Söntgen’s „Kulturen der Kritik“). Each of these models demonstrates how Critique is able to develop its own criteria that are different from the values that it produces. This Conference presupposes, in other words, that it still matters how Criticism argues even if it is complicit with the current power technologies. Instead of endlessly deploring its complicity, we would like to examine how its evaluations differ from the act of evaluation implied in the concept of value.
Isabelle Graw/Christoph Menke

Language: English


January 19, Städelschule Lichthalle

2-4 pm
Against Critique
Lecture: Bruno Latour
Respondents: Rainer Forst, Petra Gehring
Moderation: Dirk Setton
For further information (Video and Audio): Click here...

4:30-6 pm
Roundtable: Labour and Value
Participants: Sabeth Buchmann, Isabelle Graw, Christoph Menke, John Roberts
Moderation: Felix Trautmann
For further information (Video and Audio): Click here...

6:30-8:30 pm
The Power of Critique
Lecture: Beate Söntgen
Respondents: Martin Seel, Kerstin Stakemeier
Moderation: Philippe Pirotte
For further information (Video and Audio): Click here...

January 20, Städelschule Lichthalle

Criticize your Life
Lecture: Rahel Jaeggi
Respondents: Eva Geulen, Thomas Lemke
Moderation: Judith Mohrmann
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2-4:00 pm
Social Critique
Lecture: Luc Boltanski
Respondents: Juliane Rebentisch, Klaus Günther
Moderation: Marina Martinez Mateo
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Presented by:
Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders" and Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Städelschule


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