Distributing Agency Everywhere: TV Critiques Postcritique
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This essay analyzes and challenges a group of contemporary responses to the discordance between intention and “distributed agency,” as it has become known in the postcritical work of Rita Felski and like-minded critics (typically self-identified as postcritics, surface readers, posthumanists, or new materialists). Although readers have tended to see such critical positions as distinct, they all share a set of essential commitments regarding agency that render intention—and literary interpretation, by extension—incoherent. The essay argues that postcriticism and likeminded theories rely on a two-part commitment functioning in the background: first, a commitment to intention as a performance that occurs in the mind, and, second, to distributing agency to other actors and “actants”—most crucially "readers"—as an obligatory result of this account of intention. To illustrate the analysis and critique, the essay considers brief but telling moments from some contemporary prestige television shows such as "The Americans", "Homecoming", and "Patriot". These readings help to clarify that the crucial postcritical error is not distributive agency per se, but the now-familiar account of "textual" agency. Exploring a similar set of problems about intention and interpretation, shows like "Homecoming" and "Patriot" take a far more skeptical stance towards the beliefs and strategies embraced by postcritique. Moreover, only a commitment to authorial intention makes that skepticism legible.
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