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The History: Part I

The first spark of the fire of the BABEL Working Group was lit at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association in San Diego, California (2003) when Eileen Joy was wandering through the book exhibits and stumbled across the Winter 2003 edition of the journalCritical Inquiry, which featured the statements

Fridgehenge (Sante Fe, New Mexico)

presented by twenty-seven of North America’s finest scholars of criticism and theory atCritical Inquiry‘s 11-12 April 2003 symposium (held in Chicago), which had been organized, in the words of W.J.T. Mitchell, “to discuss the future of the journal and of the interdisciplinary fields of criticism and theory that it addresses.” No academic papers were presented, only short statements that were submitted and circulated among the speakers weeks in advance of the symposium, so that the entire affair could be constructed as a critical conversation. The symposium was divided into two sessions: a public “town meeting” that was attended by approximately 550 people from the academic communities of Chicago and beyond, and the event was covered by major newspapers, including the Boston Globe and the New York Times, and a closed meeting of the board and editors, which was itself subdivided into sessions on theory, politics, and technology. In his original “Call for Statements,” Mitchell indicated that the journal was interested in creating a forum whereby the editors could “spend two days brainstorming about the possible, probable, and desirable futures of criticism and theory in the human sciences.” Further, Mitchell asked the following questions: “What transformations in research paradigms are on the horizon? How will technology change the transmission and production of knowledge? What will be the fate of the humanities, of literature, the arts, and philosophy, in what is widely hearlded as a posthuman age? How will the very notions of criticism and critique change in the epoch and in the current state of perpetual crisis and emergency? What will be the relation of the coming criticism to politics and public life?” Read more »

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