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An understanding of critique as only as suspicious denunciation prevents explorations of a more socially relevant role for criticism, namely, its capacity for articulating ideals that would make criticism an opportunity for imagining more just social relations. Critique today relies on the illusion of the critic’s superiority to the literary text and detachment from the “real world,” where ideologies operate in ways that only a transcendent critical perspective can perceive. A different critical disposition—hopefulness—would bring imaginative idealism back to the study of literature, making the ideals behind suspicious censure explicit and actively participating in imagining worlds better suited to those ideals. The suspiciousness characteristic of contemporary criticism is a melancholy appropriation of Cold War state epistemologies, which encouraged citizens to seek below seemingly innocent surfaces to find hidden and nefarious ideological enemies. In order for criticism to move beyond its dispositional replications of Cold War state epistemologies, criticism will require a new hopefulness that can be found, ironically, during the Cold War, when social critics—antiwar, civil rights, prolabor, and feminist activists as will as literary critics—took the unreal world of literature as an opportunity for social criticism and, more importantly, for the imaginative genesis of new ideals for a more just society.

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