Walter Benn Michaels
This article has multiple issues. Please help improve it or discuss these issues on the talk page. (Learn how and when to remove these template messages)(Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Walter Benn Michaels (born 1948) is an American literary theorist, known as the author of Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism (1995) and The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (2004).
Michaels earned his BA in 1970 and PhD in 1975 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Afterwards, he taught at Johns Hopkins University (1974–1977, 1987–2001) and the University of California, Berkeley (1977–1987). Since 2001, he has taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago's Department of English, for which he has served as Head (2001–2007).
"Against Theory", an article co-written by Michaels and Steven Knapp, is included in the Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism. His study of American Naturalism, The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism; American Literature at the Turn of the Century, was published in 1987.
Michaels' work has received a wide range of criticism within the academy. In Avery Gordon and Christopher J. Newfield's 1994 piece "White Philosophies", Michaels is critiqued for his failure to reckon with the widely recognized body of scholarship that highlights the power of racism as a structuring condition of the world: "Michaels's assimilation of cultural identity to racial essentialism lends an air of credibility to an analysis that would otherwise be more readily seen to reflect the perspective of historically white interests. This perspective ... avoids a reckoning with the fact that the moments of nearest approach between culture and race are, in U.S. history, those most likely to be utterly inseparable from power struggles."
At the June 2016 Futures of American Studies Institute at Dartmouth College, outrage emerged over Michaels' talk "Disinterested to Indifferent: A Defense of Surface Reading" for his assertion that anti-racism is a neoliberal project, his erasure of Black queer women as founders of #BlackLivesMatter [Source needed], and his descrption of "intersectionality as the OxyContin of the professional managerial class."
- "Against Theory", Critical Inquiry 8.4 (Summer 1982): 723-42.
- "The Death of a Beautiful Woman: Christopher Nolan's Idea of Form", ebr: the electronic book review (1 October 2007).
- "Going Boom",  (February/March 2009).
- "Neoliberal Aesthetics: Fried, Ranciere and the Form of the Photograph", nonsite.org (2011)
- "Interview on Photography and Politics", nonsite.org (2011)
- "Meaning and Affect", nonsite.org (2012)
- "The Beauty of a Social Problem", The Brooklyn Rail (October 2011)
- The Beauty of a Social Problem: Photography, Autonomy, Economy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.
- The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality. New York: Metropolitan, 2006.
- The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004.
- Our America: Nativism, Modernism and Pluralism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.
- The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1987.
- Gordon, Avery; Newfield, Christopher (July 1994). "White Philosophy". Critical Inquiry 20 (4): 737–757.