The Values of Critique



This essay examines practices of evaluation in the archive of the important journal Critique, founded by Georges Bataille in 1946. The journal was a key forum for the development of postwar philosophy and theory in France, and its archive provides a unique resource for the study of the processes of evaluation and judgement that shaped the field. Considering a variety of archival materials (including advertisements for the journal, issue covers, tables of contents, author piece rate lists, letters and private communications) alongside reviews published in the journal, we examine the institutional processes, editorial practices and thus the more-or-less implied values that organised the journal’s operations. We argue that Critique’s archive reveals a complex, socially diffuse image of value and that the field of forces in which a volume is produced is multidimensional, integrating criteria from a plurality of different fields. The act of evaluative judgement encompasses capital; the prioritisation and ordering of content; operations of recommendation, friendship and mentorship; concerns for political impact; house codes; and norms of engagement.

In Contingencies of Value (1988), Barbara Herrnstein Smith developed a structurally contingent concept of value. The question of the good or the end that might determine the value of a work or a practice is inextricably bound to the situation in which that work or practice operates. There is no universal good, she argued, that might define literature’s worth. There are only the local goods, specific to the uses and functions of a work. Imagine, for instance, that someone has just published a well-received book on Proust. Its value will change depending on the social position the evaluator occupies relative to it. Its worth changes from the point of view of the author, the author’s mother, an emerging Proust scholar, an established Proust scholar, the copyeditor, a peer reviewer, book reviewer or tenure case reviewer, a department chair endorsing a promotion case, the person who manages a university’s research repository, a book distributor, a cover designer or a bookstore owner, a resentful former lover who hates the author and Proust too, an editor for a book review, the convenor of a reading group, someone searching for content for a podcast, a printer or book binder, a publicist, an events manager, the editor who championed the book, the finance person at the press that published it or someone on the prizes committee for a professional organisation. This is, of course, an extremely partial and limited list. But the point it makes is an important correlate to Herrnstein Smith’s: the moment value becomes decoupled from an absolute good it is given over to the entire social field, and the value of a work becomes defined by and reflects the extraordinary complexity of the social reality in which it circulates.

This radical diffusion of values and ends might seem to render judgement impossible, particularly if one wants a value of all values that might radically ground judgement and rank subsidiary values. And yet, judgements of value are not only not impossible but also permanent aspects of almost any intellectual work at any level of scale, from labour at large institutions of intellectual production and reproduction – universities, book publishers, journals – to the perpetually renewed microdecision to keep reading a text (as Henry James underlined, every act of reading ultimately comes back to this fundamental ‘yes’ or ‘no’). How to grasp these different systems of value?

This is one of the questions at the heart of our Australian-Research-Council-funded project ‘The Journal in Theory’, which looks at the way the institutional processes, editorial practices and values of influential journals shaped the rise of high theory. In this essay, we will work towards a response to this question by reflecting on certain institutional practices at Georges Bataille’s revolutionary journal Critique. Georges Bataille and Pierre Prévost established Critique in 1946 with the subtitle and project of being a ‘general review of publications from France and abroad’.1 Unlike the other dominant journals of the day, such as Les Temps Modernes or La Nouvelle Revue Française, Critique only published review essays. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the journal played an important role reviewing foreign-language publications at a time when paper was scarce and books were expensive (see Richman 144–45). Bataille’s intention from the start, however, was to ‘transcend’ the form of ‘simple reviews’, as an early advertisement put it – the journal aimed to be comprehensive, ‘systematic’, providing the ‘least incomplete’ view of the ‘activities of human spirit in all of its domains’.2 Meanwhile, the journal would also pursue an explicitly evaluative function, aimed at ‘bringing together the best possible analyses of the best publications’ (Prévost 125). Critique rapidly became one of France’s leading intellectual journals. It played a shockingly under-acknowledged role in launching some of the most significant philosophical careers and philosophical texts of the postwar generation – Maurice Blanchot’s ‘Literature and Right to Death’ (1948) was first published there in two parts, as was the earliest version of Jacques Derrida’s ‘Of Grammatology’ (1967) and, likewise, reviews that would form the foundations for Gilles Deleuze’s Logic of Sense (1969) and Luce Irigaray’s Speculum of the Other Woman (1974). Following Bataille’s death in 1962, the journal came under the editorial direction of Jean Piel, who drew on the support of a remarkable editorial committee, including Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and Michel Serres.

Critique, then, was one of the most important journals of its day; it disseminated revolutionary work that transformed the face of the humanities in the West. What ‘values’ inflected its decisions? What forms did the act of judgement take? What kinds of reasons were given or implied? What were the different forces at play? Our method here will not take the form of a reconstruction of the ‘field’ in which Critique operated, in line with the sociology of institutions. Instead, we want simply to pose these questions to the archive, to ask what the acts of judgement recorded in the archival record look like. We should note that our record is not ideal. The archives held at the Institut Mémoires de L’Édition Contemporaine (IMEC) are not at all complete – most often, the documents are isolated, piled one on top of another in a folder as though they somehow belong together; but, really, they are connected only according to the logic of the pile. There is often no context, no narrative or story. One has to infer the context from the most telegraphic remarks and signs. And yet, even in this isolated and fragmentary state, important aspects of the act of judgement can be glimpsed.

What we hope to show in this essay is that Critique’s archive reveals a complex, socially diffuse image of value. The decisions and judgements that supported that dissemination, however, signal the existence of heterogeneous domains of value. These domains do not add up to constitute something like a ‘field’. Rather, the space of judgement traverses and binds together a plurality of different fields. In quite different ways, the fragments of this archive, limited and dispersed as they are, show that decision happens in a complex, multidimensional space. The essay has three parts: the first looks at protocols of payment and the ordering of contents; the second looks at practices of recommendation and the way they are caught up in social or professional relationships; the third turns to the immanent criteria of a review for Critique, the different qualities that might make a review a ‘good’ review.

The Value of Piece Rates

Let us start with a form of value that does not allow one to differentiate the relative worth of different contributions: the act of payment. Jérôme Lindon managed Critique for Les Éditions de Minuit in a purely administrative capacity, and much of the archive consists of his notes around the finances for the journal. There are a handful of loose sheets calculating piece rates for different issues. Consider one for Issue 227, published in April 1966:

Image title

It is tempting to assume that the amount each contributor was paid might express, in some way, their value to the publishers. The highest paid here is the important linguist J. C. Pariente, a friend of Jean Hyppolite’s, whose thinking about linguistics managed to blend the new structuralism with reflections on the relation of language and being that had defined the interwar and postwar reception of Heidegger and Hegel. The book he reviewed, Luis J. Prieto’s Principes de Noolgie, proposed a radical refoundation of linguistics in logical categories. A well-connected, eminent linguist reviewing a radical proposal to transform his field: perhaps this is why Pariente is raking it in for this issue? In fact, Critique’s practice was to pay authors a piece rate based on length – ten francs per page – a flat rate, independent of an author’s relative status in their field.

A more important designator of value structuring Lindon’s list lies in its order. The order of the payment list follows the order in which the names appear in three different, far more public places: on the cover of the issue, in its table of contents and in its advertisements (see, in this respect, the image below from an advertisement for this issue in another important journal from the period, Ésprit).

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Figure 1: Esprit (10).
Figure 1: Esprit (10).

Starobinski tops the list. One can speculate about why he does. By 1966, most of his major books were out. His revolutionary monograph on Rousseau (1957) had been followed in quick succession by his History of the Treatment of Melancholy (1960), L’Œil Vivant (1961), the History of Medicine (1963) and, in 1964, The Invention of Liberty, a study of paintings in years immediately preceding the French Revolution. His reflections for this issue, on the representation of melancholy in the theatre of Carlo Gozzi, point back at once to his history of melancholy and his remarkable command of eighteenth-century European literature. One can imagine, too, that the way Starobinski moved from theatre to medical history spoke to the totalising ambitions of the revue from the start: its express aim was to represent the system of world spirit in its unfolding across heterogenous disciplines.

These speculations, however, begin to derail with the second name on the list. Hélène Cixous had not yet published her thesis on Joyce, and her first book, La Prénom de Dieu would only be published in the following year. It is not that she was entirely unknown. A 1967 review of La Prénom by Jacqueline Piatier in Le Monde began by noting that ‘Our readers already know the name of this young woman who, at thirty, an agrégée in English and Assistante at the Sorbonne, is finishing a thesis on James Joyce (NOS lecteurs connaissent déjà le nom de cette jeune femme qui, à trente ans, agrégée d'anglais, assistante à la Sorbonne, se prépare à présenter une thèse sur James Joyce)’ (Piatier). But here, Cixous is a young woman, known by her institutional affiliations, an unfinished project and, as Piatier alludes, by Le Monde’s publication a few months earlier of Cixous’s ‘Un Art de Lire’, a stunning, authoritative review of a recent translation of Ezra Pound into French. Her piece for Critique, then, is that of an early, emerging scholar of Anglophone literature.

It is almost certainly the work reviewed that explains her place in the ranks – in two ways. First, the study of evil in the work of William Golding clearly draws on Cixous’s emerging reputation but in a way that reflects two of the revue’s original and ongoing commitments to reviewing literature from abroad (as its subtitle indicates) and specifically Anglophone literature. Indeed, the very first issue of Critique, in June 1946, opened with Bataille’s La Morale de Miller, a review of three recent translations of Henry Miller into French, which continued Bataille’s preoccupation with the relation between literature and evil – a thematic clearly picked up by Cixous’s review.

But the work reviewed exerts its influence in a second and more basic sense: the domain of world spirit from which the work under review comes often determines where it falls in the table of contents. From its opening issue until the 1970s, Critique regularly sequenced its reviews according to a distinctive pattern. The opening reviews were almost always reviews of literary works. As one moves down the contents page, one moves through sociological, then political, then linguistic, then philosophical works, until finally hitting bottom in economic works, as though the economy were the base for the issue as much as it is for society as a whole.3 It is perhaps no coincidence that this is the same order of domains that appeared in Bataille’s early advertisements for the journal:

Critique will publish studies of books and articles appearing in France and abroad. These studies surpass the importance of simple reviews. Through them, Critique would like to provide an aperçu, the least incomplete that it can, of the diverse activities of the human spirit in all of its domains, from literary creation to philosophical inquiry, to historical, scientific, political and economic knowledge.

Critique publiera des études sur les livres et les articles paraissant en France et à l’étranger. Ces études dépassent l’importance de simples comptes rendus. A travers elles, Critique voudrait donner un aperçu, le moins incomplet qu’il se pourra, des diverses activités de l’esprit humain dans les domaines de la création littéraire, des recherches philosophiques, des connaissances historiques, scientifiques, politiques et économiques.

Cixous and Starobinski, then, are most likely at the top because they are reviewing literary works. For the same reason, Yves Laulan’s essay on inflation in Latin America comes last.

Where does this get us in terms of thinking about determinants of value? It is clear that money is not a particularly useful designator of value in the context of Critique where it is distributed more or less uniformly. Instead, and we will return to this point below, Critique responded to and operated within a complex and shifting scene of social values and institutional commitments. The established cachet of the author of a given review is set alongside the significance of the text being reviewed, Critique’s own areas of specialisation and emphasis, and its particular way of carving up and sequencing the total system of contemporary spirit. Each of these axes intersect in the ordering of content; no one context of value is determining on its own. The space of a value judgement is not a uniform space but is complex and uneven.

The Value of Internal Advising

Another site of value judgements is in the solicitation, acceptance or rejection of articles for publication. Letters circulated between members of the editorial board and Jean Piel point to the mechanisms behind the production of content for the journal. Consider the following letter from Jean Piel to Michel Foucault.

March 3, 1966
Monsieur Michel Foucault
13, Rue du Docteur Finley

Dear friend,

Thank you for sending back the list which will soon be followed by another because manuscripts are pouring in at the rate of one or two a day.

As you wish, I’m sending you the articles of Jean Pfeifer, Jean-Michel Rey, and Robert Castel. The first seems to me at least debatable; the second to be excluded as an article [as opposed to a review] (I reserve the possibility of making a note of it, possibly, to please Axelos); only the third is of interest, despite some awkwardness and a bit of length, and I would like to encourage the author who is a student of [Pierre] Bourdieu and [Eric] Weil.

I intend to see you very soon and I will perhaps then give you some of the other texts we have spoken about if it is not too much to ask.

See you soon, believe me very friendly yours,

Jean Piel

Le 3 mars 1966
Monsieur Michel Foucault
13, Rue du Docteur Finley

Cher ami,

Je vous remercie de m’avoir retourné la liste qui sera bientôt suivie d’une autre car les manuscrits affluent au rythme d’un ou deux par jour.

Comme vous le souhaitez, je vous fais parvenir ci-inclus les articles de Jean Pfeifer, Jean-Michel Rey, et Robert Castel. Le premier me paraît au moins contestable; le second a exclure comme article (je me réserve d’en faire une note, éventuellement, pour faire plaisir à Axelos); seul le troisième présente un intérêt malgré certaine maladresse et un peu de longueur, et je souhaiterai encourager l’auteur qui est un élève de Bourdieu et de Weil.

Je compte vous faire signe très prochainement et je vous remettrai peut-être alors certains des autres textes dont je vous avais parlé si du moins ce n’est pas abuser.

A bientôt, croyez-moi très amicalement votre,

Jean Piel

As we see in Piel’s letter to Foucault, lists of essays submitted to Critique were circulated to various members of the journal’s board. Works of interest to this or that member of the board were selected and subject to internal deliberation. Opinions and decisions were typically circulated in letters rather than at formal editorial meetings. For Piel’s part, his evaluations of the three articles sent to Foucault are remarkably brief. Indeed, Piel here offers little to no engagement with the conceptual, theoretical or scholarly detail of the works. Moreover, far from any ideal of anonymity to ensure a disinterested evaluation, the identity of a given author is prioritised, even actively cited as a reason for supporting publication.

Inherent in the project and operation of Critique was a sense of its situatedness in its own time. It was a dedicated outlet for reviews of recently published works and it relied upon its editorial board to enable it to maintain a high degree of responsivity to the contemporary scene. As Sylvie Patron describes the situation, the letters ‘demonstrate the structure of exchange between Piel and his editorial board: supply and demand, participation and reciprocity, freedom and precedents (l’offre et la demande, la participation et les contreparties, les préseances et les libertés)’ (94). If the written interactions of the board privileged all these things, perhaps more so than detailed and properly critical or carefully reasoned evaluation, this should signal the sense in which Critique made a value of its own situatedness.

Another important role of Piel’s advisors was to suggest works to be reviewed and people to do the reviewing (cf. Patron 94). While Gilles Deleuze was never formally a member of the editorial board, he was an important and long-time collaborator with the journal, publishing numerous important essays in Critique as well as issuing many of his books through the Critique book collection at Éditions de Minuit. In 1981, he would write Piel to propose the publication of a review written by his then-student Eric Alliez:

Gilles Deleuze Monday
1bis rue de Bizerte
Paris 17

Dear Jean,

A friend, Eric Alliez, has just written an article on Toni Negri’s Spinoza – which is a beautiful book. I asked him to send you his article. It would be important for Negri’s situation in Italy if there were a study of him in Critique. I hope you’ll like Alliez’s article (and kindly let him know your decision once you’ve made it). I would love to see you soon if you have the time – I will call you about it.

With all my friendship,


Gilles Deleuze Lundi
1^bis^ rue de Bizerte
Paris 17

Cher Jean,

Un ami, Eric Alliez, vient de faire un article sur le Spinoza de Toni Negri, qui est un très beau livre. Je lui demande de vous soumettre cet article. Ce serait important pour la situation de Negri en Italie qu’il y ait une étude sur lui dans Critique. J’espère que vous trouverez bon l’article d’Alliez (avez la gentillesse de lui dire votre décision dès que l’ave prise). J’aimerai bien vous voir bientôt si vous avez le temps, en vous téléphonerai.

Croyez, cher Jean, à toute mon amitié,


Alliez’s review of Antonio Negri’s The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza’s Metaphysics and Politics (first published in 1981; L’Anomalia Selvaggia: Saggio su Potere e Potenza in Baruch Spinoza) would, indeed, appear later that year in the August–September issue of Critique.

The different fields of forces that might have inflected the ‘yes’ behind Piel’s decision to publish the piece are opened up in quite remarkable ways by this letter. Let us start with the dimension that is easiest to miss. Deleuze points to the ‘intrinsic’ quality of both Negri’s book and Alliez’s review: it is important that Negri’s book be worthy of review and that both Critique’s trusted advisor and Critique’s editor find the review itself to be good. (Negri’s book, of course, is one of the most important interpretations of Spinoza of the past century, so it is easy to say, in retrospect, that Deleuze’s judgement is one that most Spinoza scholars recognise and affirm, according to disciplinary norms – even if the articulation and explication of those norms would require time and care and would themselves be contested.) But the content of the work is not easily separated from the force of disciplinary power. Deleuze was the preeminent radical interpreter of Spinoza in France at the time (see Peden), and Alliez was then in the process of writing, under Deleuze’s supervision, Capital Times (1991) – a radical and still under-appreciated history of transformations in the concepts and practices of temporality from antiquity and late antiquity. This is a recommendation with substantial force then: the ‘intrinsic’ value of the article is here supplemented with value coming from the field and its changing state. Deleuze is, moreover, clearly careful to interrupt the circuit of friendship that is also in play: to insist that Piel make his decision and communicate it directly to Alliez is a way of saying he does not want Piel to feel answerable to Deleuze himself.

Deleuze, of course, situated these regimes of value (the ‘intrinsic’ value of the article; the value of a disciplinary formation and intellectual friendships that overlap with other circles of association) within another: a complex political and cultural political situation. At the time, Negri had been accused of supervising the Red Brigades, but he had not yet been convicted – the conviction would not come until 1984. Deleuze’s proposal thus mobilises a series of distinct but clearly related modes of power to intervene in indirect but still consequential ways in the situation. It presupposes a fundamental belief in and experience of real intellectual power, one that includes not only the notion that intellectuals might be respected because ideas were taken seriously but also that, in this case, intellectual values could and should determine legal and political values and should be used to inflect the course of a highly politicised investigation. This implies that Critique, at some level, distributes intellectual power in the form of the prestige its pages grant to both reviewers and the reviewed; it registers the different political situations of France and Italy and it ties those situations to the different intellectual–political situations of thinkers in both countries (to be recognised as a leading Italian intellectual by leading French intellectuals is of a completely different order than being recognised by one’s own countrymen, and that difference grants Piel a special power in this situation). But most significantly, perhaps, it assumes that Piel would share the ends or values towards which this power might be used: say ‘yes’ to supporting Negri and everything that support implies.

Did any of these different regimes of value actually inflect Piel’s acceptance of the review? Perhaps. And there were certainly other values related to the daily operation of the journal, other articles already accepted, the changing shape of the editorial board and French philosophy as a whole, his own health and the review’s history and complex relation to Althusser, whose epigram ‘Marx before Spinoza’ is echoed from the other direction in Alliez’s title. But the point is not that one or another of these values might have been determining. It is that Deleuze expected an astonishingly wide spectrum of values to be legible and shared and that he crammed this entire spectrum into a few short, almost casual sentences. Indeed, in this very brief communication, he crossed, almost imperceptibly, a remarkable number of overlapping but heterogeneous realms of value as he moved from one clause of a sentence to the next: friendship, mentorship, intellectual friendship, disciplinary formations, political commitments and the use of intellectual power.

The Value of Form

So far, we have looked at the way different archival documents condense quite different fields and regimes of value – piece rate lists, advertisements, covers, tables of contents, letters and private communications all proliferate forms and fields of judgement. We have not yet considered, excepting some scare quotes around ‘intrinsic’, the specific form of the reviews: the fact that Critique developed and disseminated a specific kind of writing and philosophical commentary that, in many ways, came to define the most radical tendencies and experiments of prose style in postwar French philosophy. To accept and publish a review is often – though not always – to see in it a reflection of this form.

This aspect often shows up negatively. Consider, for instance, an undated letter from Georges Poulet to Jean Piel. Poulet begins by thanking Piel for his offer to collaborate but then apologises. For a long time, he explains, Critique’s previous editors, Bataille and Éric Weil, had asked him to write for the journal but he could never say ‘yes’:

and the only reason I still have not benefited from their offer is because, most often, I found myself incapable of taking on the sort of study [unreadable] of writing to the formula of the review.

et l’unique raison pour laquelle jusqu’à présent je n’avais pas profité de leur offre, c’est parce que le plus souvent je m’étais trouvé incapable d’adopter la sorte d’étude que [unreadable] d’écrire à la formule de la Revue.

What exactly is this formula? Later in the letter, Poulet will give one meaning to the expression: ‘it is only on totalities and not on detached works that my method operates’ (‘c’est seulement sur des ensembles, et non sur des œuvres détachées que ma méthode peut s’exercer’). His worry is revealing – both about his own method and that of the review. Poulet was committed to the principle, shared from Sartre to Spitzer (indeed to Deleuze), that an oeuvre constituted a whole that, in some way, reflected the author; the reconstruction of their experience, their ego, their way of seeing or thinking is the object of criticism. The review form, however, shatters that whole. It is a necessarily local intervention into the most recent fragment of an oeuvre, an unfinished oeuvre if the author is still alive, and it represents the movement of two minds: that of the reviewer and the reviewed. In a certain sense, Critique, too, took aim at a totality, but it aimed for, as the early documents of the journal say, an encyclopedic account of contemporary thought by grasping thought at its cutting edge, at the moment the new appeared. From the point of view of this totality, however, the fragment and the plurality of positions take on a positive valence – but in relation to a project quite different from Poulet’s.

We have written elsewhere about editorial discussions that further reveal in the negative certain ideal qualities of the review form as it was established at Critique – Alain Badiou’s ‘The (Re)commencement of Dialectical Materialism’ (1967), a review of three Althusser texts, sparked a minor editorial crisis because it transgressed the implicit norms of tone, style and form operative at the journal (see Marian, Patsoura and Hughes, forthcoming). Badiou’s polemical review included harshly critical comments about not only Althusser (Badiou’s own mentor) but also Foucault (who had solicited the review for Critique). These comments were judged by the editorial board as excessively and even awkwardly critical. This is the practical correlate of Critique’s commitment to the new – the object of review is not only the incomplete oeuvre of a living author but also the work of a colleague. This hesitation around overly critical reviews reveals one of Critique's most important, implicit values.

It may not be surprising to learn that many of the reviews Critique published were positive, tending to affirm the value of the work treated. Foucault’s ‘Theatrum Philosophicum’, published in Critique in 1970, offers a most egregious example. In this review of Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1968) and Logic of Sense (1969), Foucault opens with the famous declaration that ‘perhaps one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian’ (165). Later, Foucault expounds, ‘a lightning storm was produced which will bear the name of Deleuze: new thought is possible; thought is again possible’ (196). As David Macey writes, ‘‘Theatrum Philosophicum’ is a celebration rather than a critical review’ where ‘Foucault does not expound or explain Deleuze’s texts; [but rather] celebrates them’ (253). Foucault’s praise would thus seem to be excessive and non-critical.

This practice, however, is not specific to Deleuze and Foucault’s exchanges: it is, as Eleanor Kaufman has shown, a feature of the genre that she names the ‘laudatory review’. Critique was one of the institutional centres of this genre. Macey’s comment suggests that there is something insubstantial or uncritical about this approach; but, as Kaufman shows, ‘this mode of encomium’ has ‘an edge all its own’ (1). It is perhaps this element of the form that is most unexpected and strange for readers of contemporary Anglophone reviews. As Kaufman puts it, ‘[a] work of criticism that does not contest, clarify, or discriminate but instead only exuberantly and relentlessly affirms is by most standards not criticism at all but is weak or unhealthy thought’ (9). But, at the same time, it is arguably in this practice of radical affirmation that the reviews ‘transcend’ the form of ‘the simple review’, as Bataille had put it – and, in the process, practise a new form of philosophical commentary that in many ways defined the most radical works of the period (see Marian). Indeed, as Kaufman demonstrates, ‘[t]he very form of these exchanges revalues the notion of what constitutes a proper critical work’ (9). What we want to underline here, however, is simply that this form constitutes another ‘value’ for Critique, another criterion that inflects the editors’ ‘yes’ or ‘no’.


We began this essay by posing a question to the archive: what are the acts and practices of evaluation that appear in its fragments, and what can they tell us about the way value judgements work? What we hope to have shown is that the field of value judgements, the different ends mobilised and reasons given for an editorial yes or no, is extraordinarily complex. Questions of form, tone and the immanent content of the review are certainly important, but they recede outward into ever expanding circles: the institutional and financial habits of the journal, the manner in which it organises its content, circles of friendship and association, the political situation in Italy and so on.

One of the questions that we have put in brackets for much of this essay is that of Bourdieu: is there not a field that awaits its construction and that, once constructed, might constitute the space of disciplinary decision? It is clear that there are important field effects at play in every step of the story we are telling here: J. C. Pariente, virtually unknown in the Anglophone world today, occupied with authority a position that structured the postwar problematics around language, its relation to being and to structure. Or, again, it matters very much that Alliez’s recommendation comes from Gilles Deleuze or that Poulet is resistant to seeing his work or even his mode of writing in the form Critique had made its own. One can align all of these phenomena within a tensional diagram that defined the philosophico-intellectual field of postwar French thought. At the same time, however, what these fragments of the archive immediately show is that there are other fields. There are alliances of friendship, there are budgets to be followed, there are protocols of politeness and so on. Each of these elements of a decision, too, that belongs to a field that can be rationally reconstructed. But the point is not to proliferate fields. It is to say that the act of judgement occurs in a complex, n-dimensional space in which the logics of intersecting fields inflect one another.

The authors respectfully acknowledge that this work was conducted on the unceded sovereign lands of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin nations.

Research for this essay was supported by the University of Melbourne’s Early Career Researcher Grant for the project ‘Institutions and Ideas: Critique, Tel Quel and the History of Ideas’, and by funding from the Australian Research Council for the project ‘Journals in Theory: Practices of Academic Judgement’ (grant number DP220103633). Many thanks to IMEC for permission to use material from the Piel / Critique archives. We are especially grateful to Audrey Wasser and the two anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful feedback on this essay.


  1. The full title is Critique: Revue Générale des Publications Françaises et Étrangères.

  2. The full advertisement, which appears in many of the early issues, is fully quoted below. Stay tuned.

  3. This pattern is not strictly adhered to and begins to be displaced following Jean Piel’s accession to editor after Bataille’s death. Some issues are devoted to themes, some are filled with reviews of philosophical texts, and the sequencing of the middle sections tends to be more variable than literary opening and the economic closing.

Published 30 October 2023 in Special Issue: Literary Value. Subjects: Literature - Study & teaching.

Cite as: Hughes, Joe and Jessica Marian. ‘The Values of Critique.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, 2023, doi: 10.20314/als.8d67b7762b.

  • Joe Hughes — Joe Hughes is a Senior Lecturer in English and Theater Studies at the University of Melbourne. He has written widely on contemporary European thought.
  • Jessica Marian — Jessica Marian is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of Culture and Communication contributing to the ARC Discovery Project “Journals in Theory: Practices of Academic Judgement”.