In Cold War Criticism and the Politics of Skepticism, Tobin Siebers claims that modern criticism is a Cold War criticism. Postwar literary theory has absorbed the skepticism, suspicion, and paranoia of the Cold War mentality, and it plays them out in debates about the divided self, linguistic indeterminacy, the metaphysics of presence, multiculturalism, canon formation, power, cultural literacy, and the politics of literature. The major critical movements of the postwar age, Siebers argues, belong to three dominant phases of the Cold War era. The age of charismatic leadership characterized by Churchill, FDR, Stalin, and Hitler lies behind the preoccupation with "intention," "affect," and "impersonality" found in the New Criticism. The age of propaganda motivates the fascination with the guiles of language, undecidability, and deconstruction. The age of superpowers provides the dominant metaphor in the new historicism's analysis of the technology of power. All three ages of criticism reflect the skepticism of the Cold War mentality, and this skepticism, Siebers posits, has impaired the ability of literary theorists to talk about the politics of criticism in an effective way. A trenchant analysis of postwar theory, Siebers's work presents a new view of the politics of criticism and a surprising vision of what theory must do if it is to enter the post Cold War era successfully.
"Siebers makes a compelling case for analyzing the past forty years of criticism in relation to Cold War anxieties and the kind of skepticism it generated. His argument thus provides a fresh and necessary perspective on the current scene of criticism."--John Johnston, Emory University
"[A] lively polemical essay....In the midst of the sterile repetition that marks such criticism today, Siebers' book sings a different tune-and why not listen to the Sirens just this once?"--MLN