“I Was Always Interested in Capitalism.”
Interview with Walter Benn Michaels
Pages 663 - 675
In this interview, Walter Benn Michaels talks about his trajectory from being a student involved in the anti-war movement in the late 1960s to becoming an English professor, whose critique of what he calls “left neoliberalism” and his demand for a politics focused on class have been controversially discussed. While Michaels initially became interested in literary criticism seemingly at the expense of political and economic questions, he argues that he “was always interested in capitalism” and its relationship to literary texts and other cultural artifacts. In the interview, he reflects on what made him pay more attention to class inequality and criticizes how many American liberals can only conceive of class in the same manner that they understand racial discrimination. He also discusses the impact of the financial crisis and the election of Barack Obama on the American Left, which he criticizes for its focus on horizontal forms of protest. According to Michaels, it is necessary to organize, especially in the workplace. The interview concludes with reflections on the role aesthetic form can have as an example of what it means to look at an autonomous structure—such as the capitalist economy.