5 November 2010 The poor don’t want to celebrate their identity

During this year’s edition of the Conrad Festival, Walter Benn Michaels – the American and literature expert, language and politics theorist, lecturer at the University of Illinois in Chicago – met with the public two times: at the lecture “Multiculturalism Today” (second day of the Festival) and during the discussion “Gra w klasy” [Playing classes] hosted the next day by Jan Sowa, the philosopher and political scientist.

Sowa opened the meeting with Michaels with questions concerning the recent elections to Congress in the United States; he then went on to touch on the problem of “movement on the right-wing”, which to him and the American theorist seems to be the only political consequence of the recent economic crisis. After exchanging opinions on the subject of Barack Obama and his role in modern world politics, Michaels went on to the literary studies, referring to the category of “biowriting” from one of his books (“The Shape of the Signifier”). In the next part of the meeting, he criticised literature “celebrating identity” – introducing the social and economical context (“the poor don’t want to celebrate their identity”, he stated). In short, he presented an introduction to the “radical political project”, which would be based on “not respecting the individual”.
He also expressed the value of Jonathan Littell’s novel “The Kindly Ones” – finding the sense in the impossibility of identifying with the main character (which caused the book to be badly received by American critics).

During this whole meeting, Michaels referred above all to the claims of two of his most recognisable publications: “The Shape of the Signifier” and “Trouble With Diversity”, as well as the material to the book which he is currently working on.