Rey Chow, in her book The Age of the World Target, identifies a rise in self-referentiality across a number of domains of contemporary life. Fueled by Martin Heidegger's writings on “the world picture,” Chow asserts that “understanding … is now an act inseparable from the act of seeing.” But this mode of seeing is not innocent; it is, to adopt Heideggerian language, a “challenging” or “enframing” of seeing, such that the quotidian processes of imagination and conceptualization evident in the human senses are instrumentalized according to specific interests and outcomes. I wish to join this conversation and realign it slightly according to a certain technical and social landscape that one might call “viral,” “contagious,” “parasitical,” or, even more broadly, “systemic.” More specifically, I wish to continue Chow's investigation into the self-referential nature of cultural and political theory by suggesting that the state of theory today is plagued by a form of autoimmune disorder. That is to say, certain kinds of cultural and political theory confront themselves as enemies, as something that should be attacked. With reference to the work of Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Catherine Malabou, Susan Buck-Morss, and others, I consider the many scenes of self-reference and disavowal in contemporary theory, with an eye on how and whether this autoimmune disorder can be superseded and on the elemental question that is again struck: What should criticism be?

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