Introduction. trafficking in Five Obstructions
Object Lessons
This book proceeds from and elaborates on an argumentative framework
whose central lineament is deceptively simple: certain experiential phenom-
ena prevalent at the turn of the twenty- first century, of which I highlight five—
embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, and digressiveness—are al-
most always taken to be incompatible with and detrimentally obstructive to
scholarly inquiry, but they may, if properly directed, be conducive to critical
work and valuable, more broadly, for intellectual life. If embarrassment, cyn-
icism, and the like obstructions are routinely identified as detriments, then
that is because they really are, or at any rate, really can be and probably most
often are, damaging to the critical inquiry and to the intellectual life that I have
just invoked and in whose advocacy I write. That these obstructions need not,
however, be felt and understood merely as detriments to intellection, espe-
cially to intellection’s cultivation in writing—that the obstructive may, rather,
and rather paradoxically, form the basis for and sustain material manifesta-
tions of generative thinking—is the key claim for which the book Obstruction
itself is o=ered as a kind of token, emblem, or proof. In order to give that
claim texture, weight, color, and force; in order to determine how, exactly, the
obstructive, properly regarded, inflected, and deployed, may have value; and in
order to announce the delimitation of obstruction, in a special sense of critical
blockage that I have in mind, from other kinds of obstacle or blockade, I have
had to work both locally and globally: at once to consider particular objects
that could teach me in a fine- grained way about digressiveness, slowness, and
so forth, and to meditate at a more abstract level about particular qualities,
available for theoretical privileging, in which the potential benefits of obstruc-
tion inhere. Where the local is concerned, each of the five obstructions named
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