The Racist Interpretation Complex (Criticism LTD, Episode #5)

Apple Podcasts


Resonate Recordings

What is the political economy of New Criticism? Are the racist and reactionary Cold War politics of the New Critics immanent to their trademark method: close reading? The episode begins with the story of Langston Hughes testifying before the the House Un-American Activities Committee on what goes into the interpretation of a poem. What constitutes “tactical criticism” [9:00]? Critics try to rescue close reading from the “bad politics” at its origins [38:00], endorse supplementary methods [59:00], and describe how New Criticism looks from outside the U.S. and U.K. [1:07.30].

Starting this season, episode transcripts will be available to all who subscribe to The American Vandal newsletter.


Jed Esty is the Vartan Gregorian Professor of English at University of Pennsylvania and the author of The Future of Decline (Stanford UP, 2022).

John Guillory is the Julius Silver Professor of English Emeritus at New York University and the author of Professing Criticism (U. Chicago, 2022).

Andy Hines is the Senior Associate Director of the Aydelotte Foundation at Swarthmore College and the author of Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism & The University (U. Chicago, 2022).

Anna Kornbluh is Professor of English at University of Illinois, Chicago and the author of Immediacy, or The Style of Too Late Capitalism, forthcoming from Verso.

Christopher Newfield is Director of Research at the Independent Social Research Foundation in London. He was formerly Distinguished Professor of English at UC-Santa Barbara and President of the Modern Language Association. He’s the author (or co-author) of numerous books in Critical University Studies, most recently The Great Mistake (Johns Hopkins UP, 2018) and Metrics That Matter (Johns Hopkins UP, 2023).

Ignacio M. Sanchez Prado is the Jarvis Thurston & Mona Van Duyn Professor in the Humanities at Washington University in St. Louis, and the author of “The Humanities Are Worth Fighting For” and Cultural Capital: Reflections from a Latin Americanist.”

Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, resident scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies, and executive producer of The American Vandal PodcastHe’s also the author of “The End of Economics.”


The American Vandal Podcast is delighted that Joe Locke and Circle 9 Records have given us permission to use Locke’s new album, Makramas the soundtrack to the “Criticism LTD” series. Locke’s quartet features Lorin Cohen on bass, Jim Ridl on keys, and Samvel Sarkisyan on drums, as well as Locke on vibes.

Tracks featured in this episode include Locke’s original compositions “Tushkin,” “Song For Vic Juris,” “Interwoven Hues,” “Makram,” and “Shifting Moon.”

And his arrangements of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.”

Episode Bibliography:

M. H. Abrams, The Mirror & The Lamp: Romantic Theory & The Critical Tradition (Oxford UP, 1953)

Jonathan Arac, Huckleberry Finn As Idol & Target: The Functions of Criticism in Our Time (U. Wisconsin, 1997)

James Baldwin, “Everybody’s Protest Novel” in Notes of A Native Son (1955)

Harold Bloom, The Western Canon (Harcourt Brace, 1994)

James Buchanan & Richard Wagner, Public Debt In A Democratic Society (AEI, 1967)

Rachel Sagner Buurma & Laura Heffernan, The Teaching Archive: A New History For Literary Study (U. Chicago, 2020)

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (1980)

Arthur Conan Doyle, The Crime of The Congo (Doubleday Page, 1909)

Jed Esty, The Future of Decline: Anglo-American Culture & Its Limits(Stanford UP, 2022)

Ángel María Garibay, Poemas Náhuatl: Breve Selección (Poesía)

Sharon Grimberg (Dir.) “McCarthy” American Experience (January 6, 2020)

Gerald Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History (U. Chicago, 1987)

John Guillory, Professing Criticism: Essays On The Organization of Literary Study (U. Chicago, 2022)

John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (U. Chicago, 1993) [Enlarged Edition, 2023]

Andy Hines, Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism & The University (U. Chicago, 2022)

Langston Hughes, “Un-American Investigators” in The Panther & The Lash (Knopf, 1967)

Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes Reads Langston Hughes (Santa Fe, 2013)

Langston Hughes, Langston Hughes Reads & Talks About His Poems (Spoken Arts, 1969)

Langston Hughes, “Some Practical Observations: A Colloquy” Phylon (Quarter 4, 1950)

Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke UP, 1991)

Robin D. G. Kelley, Race Rebels: Culture, Politics, & The Black Working Class (Free Press, 1996)

Anna Kornbluh, Immediacy, or The Style of Too Late Capitalism (Verso, 2024)

Anna Kornbluh, The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, & Social Space (U. Chicago, 2019)

Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton UP, 2015)

György Lukács, History & Class Consciousness (1923)

Nancy MacLean, Democracy In Chains: The Deep History of The Radical Right’s Stealth Plan For America (Viking, 2017)

Angie Maxwell, The Indicted South: Public Criticism, Southern Inferiority, & The Politics of Whiteness (UNC, 2014)

Rossevelt Montás, Rescuing Socrates: How The Great Books Changed My Life & Why They Matter For A New Generation (Princeton UP, 2021)

Christopher Newfield, “Post-Automated Luxury Criticism” MLA Newsletter (Winter 2022)

Christopher Newfield, The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities & How We Can Fix Them (Johns Hopkins UP, 2018)

Joseph North, Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History (Harvard UP, 2017)

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, “The Humanities Are Worth Fighting For” Los Angeles Review of Books (July 14, 2023)

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Cultural Capital: Reflections from a Latin Americanist” Genre (April 2023)

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, “On Cosmopolitanism & The Love of Literature: Revisiting Harold Bloom Through His Final Books” Los Angeles Review of Books (March 2, 2021)

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, “Remedial Humanities: On Roosevelt Montás’s Rescuing Socrates Los Angeles Review of Books (May 23, 2022)

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Strategic Occidentalism: On Mexican Fiction, The Neoliberal Book Market, & The Question of World Literature (Northwestern UP, 2018)

Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado, Naciones Intelectuales: Las Fundaciones De La Modernidad Literaria Mexicana (1917-1959) (Purdue UP, 2009)

John Crowe Ransom, “Criticism Inc.” The Virginia Quarterly Review 13.4 (Autumn 1937)

Edward Said, The World, The Text, & The Critic (Harvard UP, 1984)

Matt Seybold, “Jason Wingard’s EdTech Griftopia” Los Angeles Review of Books (February 23, 2023)

Matt Seybold, “The End of Economics” Los Angeles Review of Books (July 3, 2017)

Matt Seybold et al, “Ponzi Austerity in The Age of Cultural Abundance” The American Vandal Podcast (August 21, 2023)

Matt Seybold et al, “Hungover From The Bad Old Days of High Theory,” The American Vandal Podcast (August 14, 2023)

Matt Seybold, “A Loving & Clairvoyant Parasite: George Steiner in ‘The Archives of Eden'” (February 6, 2020)

Matt Seybold, “The Funny Man vs. The Butcher: Anti-Imperialist Trolling & The International Reception of King Leopold’s Solilquy Quarry Farm Symposium (October 3, 2020)

George Steiner, “The Archives of Eden” Salmagundi (Fall 1980)

Mark Twain, King Leopold’s Soliloquy (1905)

Twelve Southerners, I’ll Take My Stand: The South & The Agrarian Tradition (1930)

Robert Penn Warren, Who Speaks For The Negro? (Random House, 1965)

Robert Penn Warren, Segregation: The Inner Conflict in The South (1956)

Raymond Williams, Culture & Society (Chatto & Windus, 1958)