In this episode of High Theory, Matt Seybold tells us about Criticism, the glue that holds the bricks of culture together. Cultural critics are a necessary component of the intellectual ecosystem, who have the power to analyze both the material conditions and the myths that make up our world. 

Matt is the host of the American Vandal Podcast at the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College. In his recent podcast series, Criticism, LTD, Matt investigated the state of criticism in the academy and the public sphere. There is a nifty substack newsletter with the transcripts from Criticism, LTD, if you’re keen. Kim and Saronik were among the many podcasters, public intellectuals, and critics that Matt interviewed for the series, and we’re excited to have him back on High Theory to tell us about his investigations. 

In the episode he offers a recuperative reading of Mark Twain’s acerbic take on critics in his late notebooks: “The critic’s symbol should be the tumble-bug; he deposits his egg in somebody else’s dung, otherwise he could not hatch it.” (see p. 392 of this Harper & Brothers, 1935 edition of Twain’s Collected Works, on He references Jacques Derrida’s book, Limited Inc (Northwestern UP, 1988), which contains the *famous* essay “Signature, Event, Context” and a critical debate about Apartheid. And he also discusses Jed Esty’s Future of Decline: Anglo-American Culture at Its Limits (Stanford UP, 2022) and our episode with Jed on the Rhetoric of Decline. You can also take a listen back to Matt’s earlier episode with us on  Economics

Matt Seybold is Associate Professor of American Literature & Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College, as well as Resident Scholar at the Center For Mark Twain Studies. He is the executive producer and host of the American Vandal Podcast, and founding editor of He is co-editor (with Michelle Chihara) of of the Routledge Companion to Literature & Economics (2018)and (with Gordon Hutner) a 2019 special issue of American Literary History on “Economics & Literary Studies in The New Gilded Age.” Recent articles can be found in the Mark Twain Annual, American Studies, Reception, and Los Angeles Review of Books. He tweets (or exes?) @MEASeybold

The image for this episode was made by Saronik Bosu in 2024.

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