Author: Sean McCann

The Kant Thing: McCann’s Answer

Sean McCann has the last word in the final installment of a dialog with Walter Benn Michaels, which began with his critique of Michaels’ book The Beauty of a Social Problem: Photography, Autonomy, Economy in the May issue of Politics/Letters Quarterly. I’m grateful to Walter Benn Michaels for continuing this conversation and to the editors of Politics/Letters for giving us the space to continue the debate. Like Michaels, I have found our disagreement clarifying. I think Michaels is right, however, that our differences may be too fundamental to be resolved. He argues that a great deal hinges—politically and epistemologically–on...

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A Reply to Walter Benn Michaels

Walter Benn Michaels’ response to Sean McCann’s critique of his book The Beauty of a Social Problem recently appeared in Politics/Letters Live. This is McCann’s reply. I thank Walter Benn Michaels for the seriousness of his engagement with my review of his book and for his substantial restatement of his argument. He has a great deal to say in this essay. Only a little of what he writes, however, speaks to my critique of his work. His comments largely address other antagonists with whose views he appears to lump mine, and much of what he writes does not accurately capture what my review meant to object to in his book. So, let me try to be more direct. Michaels claims that I “iron out tensions” in Kant’s Critique of Judgment. I think it is not myself but rather he who oversimplifies the third critique. My charge, which Michaels does not significantly contest, is that his book ignores what Kant actually wrote in order to construct a straw man, one that is used by Michaels to identify what he calls a whole “side” of cultural history. That misreading matters, I believe, both because it oversimplifies intellectual history and because it obscures how much Michaels shares with Kant and with a number of post-Kantian aesthetic theorists.[1] The important element in that similarity, in my view, is the fact that Michaels, like Kant before...

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