Tom Cohen

Tom Cohen

Department of English
Tom Cohen CV502.6 KB

PhD, Yale University

Literary, Cultural and Media Studies

Tom Cohen


Tom Cohen’s work began in literary theory and cultural politics and traverses a number of disciplines—including critical theory, cinema studies, digital media, American studies, and more recently the contemporary shift of 21st century studies in the era of climate change. He has published broadly on American authors and ideology (Poe, Whitman, Melville, Faulkner, pragmatism, Morrison, among them) as well as on Greek and continental philosophy. His Anti-Mimesis—from Plato to Hitchcock (Cambridge UP, 1994) explored the relations between close reading techniques alter the paradigms of historical representation, while Ideology and Inscription—‘Cultural Studies’ after Benjamin, de Man, and Bakhtin (Cambridge, 1998) examined modes of thinking cultural and interpretive politics in relation to scriptive memory. In his two volume work on Hitchcock’s Cryptonymies, Cohen explored cinema’s hyperbolic links to writing, perceptual memory and representational politics. In one review, Christopher Morris writes: “Hitchcock's Cryptonomies is an intellectual event of the first order for film studies, critical theory, and philosophy. In the originality of its challenge to received critical approaches, it has no peer.”

His current interests focus on how the dawning “era of climate change” resets the protocols of 20th century theoretical concepts. To pursue this horizon he founded the Institute on Critical Climate Change, IC3, in which the term “critical” references theoretical and conceptual paradigms. It has platformed a series of five international symposia since, three at the University at Albany. These have resulted in a special issue of the journal Global South and a Telemorphosis: Theory in the Era of Climate Change (OHP 2012). He is presently collaborating on an extension of IC3 devoted to developing a network of inter-continental institutes, a Global Center for Critical Climate Change, GC4. He is a co-author, with Claire Colebrook and J. Hillis Miller, of Theory in the Disappearing Future—de Man on Benjamin (Routledge 2011). And he is co-editor of the series Critical Climate Change, with the new web-based Open Humanities Press.

Cohen has lectured and taught widely internationally, including assignments in China and Fulbright sponsored work in Thailand. He has essays in forthcoming volumes or special journal issues on Nietzsche and Media, War, Digital Theory, the Materialist Spirit, The Technologies of ‘The Book,’” Deconstruction and “Life,” among others. Book projects that are “in progress” include a study of Faulkner, “race” and technics (titled Catafalque); a monograph on the Brazilian director Jorge Padilha’s Bus 174 and cinema “after” biopolitics; and a book on the Aporia of Travel, a counter-narrative inquiry into temporalities and contemporary “travel.” He is also working on a monograph on Oil and the Image. During 2013-15, he has been awarded a Distinguished Visiting Professorship by Shanghai Municipality, and will be on partial assignment during the Spring semesters in Shanghai.


Telemorphosis: Theory in the Era of Climate Change (Open Humanities Press, 2012)

Theory and the Disappearing Future—on de Man, on Benjamin (Routledge, 2011), co-authored with Claire Colebrook and J. Hillis Miller

Hitchcock's Cryptonymies 1: Secret Agents (University of Minnesota Press, 2005)

Hitchcock's Cryptonymies 2: War Machines (University of Minnesota Press, 2005)

Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: a Transdisciplinary Reader, Contributing Editor (Cambridge UP, 2002)

Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory, Contributing Editor, with B. Cohen, J. H. Miller, and A. Warminski (University of Minnesota Press, 2000)

Ideology and Inscription: "Cultural Studies" after Benjamin, de Man, and Bakhtin (Cambridge UP, 1998)

Anti-Mimesis from Plato to Hitchcock (Cambridge UP, 1994)

Sample of Reviews

HITCHCOCK’S CRYPTONYMIES (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005)
Vol. I, Secret Agents
Vol. II, War Machines

“Tom Cohen's Hitchcock's Cryptonomies is an intellectual event of the first order for film studies, critical theory, and philosophy. In the originality of its challenge to received critical approaches, it has no peer in film theory: from Cohen's perspective, the work of Eisenstein, Bazin, Metz, Silverman, and Zizek, Deleuze amounts to the same tradition--hermeneutics. A better sense of its newness would be gained by comparing Cohen with literary critics like Northrop Frye, Frederic Jameson, Harold Bloom, or Hillis Miller, whose critical paradigms broke entirely with earlier ones. In the consistency of its vision, Hitchcock's Cryptonomies warrants comparison with Norman O. Brown's adaptation of Freud; in its grasp of culture and technology, it recalls the work of Marshall McLuhan. Like these thinkers, Cohen forces the reader to reassess not simply the ostensible object of his study--here, Hitchcock's films--but the nature of reality, the history of the West, and all ways of knowing. Hitchcock's Cryptonomies stands outside most academic genres; the work it resembles most closely is Derrida's The Truth in Painting, where the "explication" of works of visual art serves as the occasion for a sustained articulation of the possibility of representing truth. Obviously, the stakes Cohen sets for himself are very high and the risks he runs are commensurately dangerous. After situating Cohen's project in the contexts of his earlier work and of Hitchcock studies, this review must content itself with a summary of the book's thesis and a few guarded questions.”

IDEOLOGY AND INSCRIPTION: "Cultural Studies" After Benjamin, de Man, and Bakhtin (Cambridge UP, 1998)

'This book presents the most comprehensive and brilliant study of critical theory in our day. Tom Cohen writes in lucid, unrelenting prose of the repressed traumas that pervade most forms of contemporary thought.'

Avital Ronell
'Cohen's brilliant study is a landmark book that presents in bold delineation the future directions of humanistic studies.' J. Hillis Miller

“Tom Cohen's Ideology and Inscription: Cultural Studies After Benjamin, de Man, and Bakhtin is an untimely book in the best sense of the word. Following his Anti-Mimesis From Plato to Hitchcock (1994)--part of the same Literature, Culture, Theory series from Cambridge University Press and continuing many of the same themes--and recently followed by a new collection of essays from Minnesota (Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory, 2001), Ideology and Inscription is part of an ongoing attempt to make a much-needed intervention in current U.S. academic trends. It is untimely in part because it interrogates a form of Cultural Studies that relies on what Cohen calls an "archivism of the present" (p. 102), which it does by calling up specters of criticism's past as a means of conceiving a new kind of cultural study that would not base itself on their presumed death. Cohen's turn to theory--above all to the figure of Paul de Man (well interred by contemporary criticism), as well as his readings of Bakhtin and Benjamin against the Cultural Studies grain--forms the basis of an important critique of the current critical movement, which, in spite of the number of books dedicated to archiving its place in the present, has not been sufficiently theorized. The positioning of his argument beyond the Theory vs. Cultural Studies divide, which has proved paralytic for both sides in recent years, promises to be one of the book's most influential contributions.”


“In Ideology and Inscription, Tom Cohen, a seasoned critic with remarkable philosophical acuity and scholarly erudition, demonstrates the intellectual athleticism necessary for a commentary authentically adding to our understanding, on polemical as well as microscopic levels, even in a theoretical milieu thick with its prior innovations.”


Drawing upon the works of Benjamin, De Man and Bakhtin, Cohen argues for a new politics of memory that moves away from what he feels is a paralyzing preoccupation. More than just a critique, however, Cohen also suggests a new way of reading that breaks away from a traditional mimetic premise and allows for a more genuinely "materialist" approach to a wide range of cultural texts. Cohen's original ideas are spread over an equally dazzling breadth of subject matter, including the works of the above-mentioned critics, the films of Hitchcock, travel-writing, drugs, the rhetoric of science, and eco-politics.