Unredemptive Recognition: Naja Marie Aidt and the Turn Against Critique

Alastair Morrison

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This essay highlights a distinction within contemporary fiction, and uses it to argue for a parallel distinction within a trend of contemporary criticism. It begins by describing similarities between the so-called “New Sincerity,” most famously associated with American writers such as Jonathan Safran Foer and Dave Eggers (though I suggest that it has resonances in Europe as well), and the various turns against “critique,” from scholars including Rita Felski, Sharon Marcus, and Stephen Best, among others. My discussion of the correspondence between these movements centers on the dynamic of recognition, the relationship to a depicted character or event that draws the reader into experiences of understanding and solidarity, and which also provides the basis for self-reflection. An emphasis on recognition links the literary and critical movements; recognition is essential to what the New Sincerity asks of the reader, and the term has also become a central one for critics of critique, who seek to habilitate it as a subject of scholarly interest. Yet the critical movement has, or should have, a significantly different relationship with recognition than the New Sincerity does. In its most useful iteration, this essay argues, the turn against critique in Anglophone criticism looks (or will look, or should look) less like its cousin in the American novel than like some contemporary fiction from outside the United States – in this case, from Denmark. This essay offers readings of three short stories by Naja Marie Aidt, storiesthat share enough with the New Sincerity to make their departures from it especially salient. Rather than simply endorsing recognition – positioning recognitive empathy as desirable – Aidt's stories offer more measured observations of how recognition works as an already present part of everyday social and political interaction. As well as showing some of the international diversity of recent fiction's interest in intimacy and immediate connection, this distinction may be crucial in establishing the turn against critique as an actionable mode of literary analysis.

Original languageEnglish
JournalOrbis Litterarum
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)536-559
Publication statusPublished - 1. Nov 2017


  • American literature
  • Danish literature
  • biopower
  • enchantment
  • literary theory
  • postmodernism


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