Critique and uncertainty: The present seen from the distance around 1973

Pedro Dolabela Chagas


The year of 1973 is often described as a momentous point in history. It is often singled out as a bifurcation point in the 20th Century: even if it seems to have been less dramatic than 1914 or 1945, it is regarded as the closure of the postwar boom and of the systemically-spread political upheaval begun in the late 1960s. The reasons for crediting such relevance specifically to 1973 tend to concentrate on politics and the economy, almost inevitably revolving events that held the United States as their main actor – and almost always in a dramatic fashion. If we group in the same picture the Yom Kippur war, the coup in Chile, the oil crisis and the financial crisis, the year of 1973 immediately stands out as a very dense year, a time full of gravity for the American-dominated world-system, with post-war optimism rapidly giving way to anxiety.

From the point of view of art and literary critique, however, it is perhaps not so simple to capture what that moment brought forth: it is not clear whether such growing anxiety has anything to tell about the state of critique around 1973. It is true that the field of critique was also changing, and in ways that can be retrospectively related to the surrounding societal change. But one process did openly mirror the other, and one can also see that critique’s dominating spirit of “reaction” (exercised most often in a personal fashion) did not reveal any sense of “coordination” among critics and scholars, which suggests that change was taking place in a rather chaotic way. As an attempt to give sense to that uncoordinated process, on this article I will outline some propositions about the relations between critique (especially literary critique) and the epistemological and political uncertainty looming around 1973. I will relate that feeling of uncertainty to a change in the perception of historical time and a simultaneous disarray in the art and literary institutions, which had until then kept untouched many of their 19th-Century assumptions. And as an explanatory description of that broad scenario I will locate that feeling of historical change not only in the academic production, but also in other less self-reflexive kinds of expression: one of my basic contentions is that around 1973, and probably only for a brief period of time, the “savant sphere” was responding to the “popular” sphere in ways that were direct and (surprisingly) positive.

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Qualis (CAPES): B1 (Quadriênio 2013-2016)



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