2 November 2010 Walter Benn Michaels at two meetings

During this year’s edition of the Festival, readers will have two opportunities to meet Walter Benn Michaels, an American critic and theoretician of literature. He will deliver a lecture “Multiculturalism Today” already tomorrow (Wednesday, 3 November) and then he will take part in the discussion Gra w klasy. Polityka, społeczeństwo, kultura (Hopscotch. Politics, Society, Culture) conducted by Jan Sowa the next day.

Slogans of both meetings reveal a spectrum of topics that constitute the focus of Michaels’ academic interests; his theoretical reflection refers not only to relationships between contemporary politics and culture, but also, more specifically, connections of present-day multiculturalism and tolerance (racial, ethnic, sexual and cultural tolerance) with the class structure and inequality of modern society. He described this topic in his widely commented book The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality from 2006; he also discussed this matter for the third issue of the Conrad supplement enclosed to Tygodnik Powszechny of 19 September 2010.

Michaels alludes to the thesis according to which contemporary neoliberal societies pay too much attention to the issues of cultural discrimination, thereby concealing a more significant problem: the gradual deepening of economic differences between rich and poor representatives of communities. (The above topics appear also in one of the interviews with Michaels published on the Internet).

The author of The Trouble with Diversity lectures at the University of Illinois in Chicago; he wrote (together with Steven Knapp) a widely commented article Against Theory, which was published in The Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism. In his texts he refers not only to contemporary literature and the theory of culture; he also criticises works of other authors, e.g. Paul de Man (in The Shape of the Signifier). He remains interested in the broadly understood philosophy of politics and makes reflections on the programme principles and role of the present-day left wing.

His controversial distinction between the “left-wing” and “right-wing” neoliberalism was widely discussed in his native critical and academic environment.

According to information available on the website of his university, Michaels is currently working on a project concerning mainly the inter-war period (1918-1939), the art of this period and its impact on the formation of society; the working title of the project is The Beauty Of A Social Problem.