The Age of the World Target

Self-Referentiality in War, Theory, and Comparative Work

The Age of the World Target

Next Wave Provocations

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Book Pages: 144 Illustrations: Published: April 2006

Author: Rey Chow

Cultural Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Martin Heidegger once wrote that the world had, in the age of modern science, become a world picture. For Rey Chow, the world has, in the age of atomic bombs, become a world target, to be attacked once it is identified, or so global geopolitics, dominated by the United States since the end of the Second World War, seems repeatedly to confirm. How to articulate the problematics of knowledge production with this aggressive targeting of the world? Chow attempts such an articulation by probing the significance of the chronological proximity of area studies, poststructuralist theory, and comparative literature—fields of inquiry that have each exerted considerable influence but whose mutual implicatedness as postwar U.S. academic phenomena has seldom been theorized. Central to Chow’s discussions is a critique of the predicament of self-referentiality—the compulsive move to interiorize that, in her view, constitutes the collective frenzy of our age—in different contemporary epistemic registers, including the self-consciously avant-garde as well as the militaristic and culturally supremacist. Urging her readers to think beyond the inward-turning focus on EuroAmerica that tends to characterize even the most radical gestures of Western self-deconstruction, Chow envisions much broader intellectual premises for future transcultural work, with reading practices aimed at restoring words and things to their constitutive exteriority.


“[P]rovocative. . . . [A] worthwhile book. . . .” — Emily Plec, Altar Magazine

“Chow dissects the ways in which the affective and epistemological force of self-referentiality forges genealogies of complicity between the academic deployment of poststructuralist theory in postcolonial, ethnic and area studies and the production of military technologies in the service of restructuring the globe as a target. . . . Chow’s book is essential reading.” — Heike Härting, TOPIA

“Recommended.” — W.F. Williams, Choice

“Rey Chow's The Age of the World Target is an important invective demonstrating how scholarship in the humanities is effectively connected to the current world picture of US imperialism. . . . So many scholars, including Chow, now talk about the waning of poststructuralism, Chow's insightful analysis offers many fertile openings for inquiry into the current juncture of theory in the humanities.” — Robin Truth Goodman, symploke

“Taken together, these essays offer a trenchant call to look outward, to embrace the possibility of a security between words and things, to risk holding references to their referents.” — Lily Cho, Canadian Literature

“This lucid and provocative work raises new issues about academic discourse. It will be of particular interest to those working in poststructuralism and postcolonialism, offering an illuminating intervention into the disconnect between the emancipatory intent of such disciplines and their actual ability to connect with and understand their subjects.” — James Miller, Journal of American Studies

The Age of the World Target is a catalyzing tour-de-force. Rey Chow provides a poignant, persuasive staging of a topic that will shape the future of literary and cultural studies: the role of particular poststructuralist claims within the fields of area studies, identity politics, and comparative literature.” — Bill Brown, author of A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature

“Rey Chow is one of the most learned and imaginative left critics writing today, and The Age of the World Target is possibly her finest book yet. Elegantly traversing philosophy, literature, history, and politics, Chow refracts our political times through our academic practices in a fashion that is alternately pedagogical, biting, lyrical, and profound.” — Wendy Brown, author of Edgework: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Politics


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rey Chow is Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Comparative Literature and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University. She is the author of several books, including The Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism; Ethics after Idealism: Theory-Culture-Ethnicity-Reading; and Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema, which won the Modern Language Association’s James Russell Lowell Prize. She is the editor of Modern Chinese Literary and Cultural Studies in the Age of Theory: Reimagining a Field, also published by Duke University Press. She is a coeditor of the Duke University Press book series Asia-Pacific.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction. European Theory in America 1

I. The Age of the World Target: Atomic Bombs, Alterity, Area Studies 25

II. The Interruption of Referentiality: or, Poststructuralism's Outside 45

III. The Old/New Question of Comparison in Literary Studies: A Post-European Perspective 71

Notes 93

Index 117
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3744-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3732-4
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