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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Archives | Theory's Empire

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

How Not To Trap (Academic) Game

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 10/17/06 at 07:59 PM

Option #1:

The MB-750: Finally, a squirrel trap ready to go out of the box! Complete with a D-ring baseplate, center in-line swivels, heavy #5 chain, four coilsprings, and a trigger system that holds both jaws down, #10 Brass pan bolt, 7 1/2” jaw spread.  Heavy frame & smooth.

Option #2:

The CDR #6: It’s huge!  It weighs 48 lbs. and is 46” long with a 17” jaw-spread.  This is the size of trap used to catch the largest and most powerful bears.  It is the fastest large jaw coilspring available on the market today and has the strongest music wire springs ever used.  It is the only bear trap equipped with a Paws-I-Trip pan system direct from the manufacturer.  All traps have a full length base plate and D-ring for bottom swiveling.  The unique Notch-In wire lever lets the loose jaw lay flat every time.  Each trap comes with a 6-inch heavy duty #3 machine chain and two heavy duty swivels. 

This trap is great for decoration or display.

Option #3:

Fire: It’s is a phenomenon of combustion manifested in intense heat and light in the form of a glow or flames!  It can consume structures and trees and can severely injure or kill living beings through burns or smoke inhalation.  It is hot!  WARNING: The self-sustaining nature of fire makes it extremely dangerous if uncontrolled.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Making Book

Posted by John Holbo on 01/16/07 at 07:08 PM

I’m in the process of editing our Theory’s Empire event into a book, for Parlor Press. I have two questions for you: what should these books look like? What should the editorial goal be? I’m more or less going for: most of the posts, but not all; authors can re-write what they wrote for the final version. Links to the rough and tumble original event, so those curious to see it in the raw can find it easily. This approach may risk falling between two stools, however: not a record of an actual event, because it’s been polished; not fully polished academic work, because it’s basically still blog posts. I’m not actually worried that it won’t be a good book. Rereading the posts I’m really quite proud of how it went. We have several excellent essays. But, in general, what do you think my approach should be?

Which brings me to question two: I decided not to dig into comments and attempt to cull those for publication. I stuck with posts. But maybe that’s a mistake - and one I still have time to correct. Does anyone care to offer up candidates for ‘excellent comments to Theory’s Empire event posts’ deserving of inclusion in my fine book? If so, feel free to drop them in comments to this post. A distributed editorial effort would not only save me work but be, in some sense, a better measure of the sorts of comments people actually find valuable. Then there are potential copyright problems if I want to publish someone’s work. Would it be fair use? Well, I’ll worry about that if I decide to go with this best-of-the-boxes plan.

For ease of dropping in the box, you needn’t bother making links. Just cut and paste the text of the comment and give the permalink.

Friday, February 02, 2007

‘Theory’ for me but not for thee

Posted by John Holbo on 02/02/07 at 10:57 PM

I don’t know how I missed this at the time. Last year Jodi Dean wrote a piece for Bad Subjects, on “Blogging Theory".

At any rate, missing from nearly every account of blogs and blogging is the genre of academic blogs, and its even smaller subset, the theory-minded blog—no doubt because the number of such blogs and their readers is small and their discussions specialized if not downright esoteric—Badiou, Benjamin, Blanchot, Heidegger, Zizek. There are of course a couple of very popular academic bloggers—Glen Reynolds of Instapundit is a law professor and Michael Berube teaches English at Penn State. But both, Reynolds more than Berube, tend more to punditry and political commentary than theory. They don’t blog primarily about their academic work. Their aims, audience, and impact are significantly larger than those of most academic and, more specifically, theory-oriented blogs.

The theory blogs—and I am thinking primarily of about thirty or so interconnected blogs—generally combine personal and theoretical explorations, discussions of culture and politics, reflections on academic practices, and anything that strikes the blogger’s fancy. So, while they share a thread of theoretical concerns, they also differ greatly.

Compare this with Dean’s response - not so many months earlier - to our Theory’s Empire event, in which the very employment of ‘theory’ - without any ‘of x’ - is taken as more or less dispositive proof of the worst sort of lazy anti-intellectualism and anxiously craven careerism.

Matt Christie and Mark Kaplan have picked up a discussion of ‘theory’ that has been circulating over the past month or so. Both rightly take issue with the reductions (the elimination of an object, say--theory of what??--and the application of the term to particular thinkers thinking since 1965) necessarily part of the operation of the anti-theory polemic. Other than their posts, I haven’t paid close attention to the blog discussion, although I have talked about Theory’s Empire and the discussion around it with academic friends. From my vantage point as a political theorist in a political science department (as opposed to a scholar working in literature and the humanities), what appears to me as the reductive thinking about theory seems the result of displacing real anxieties over the academic job market onto a fantasied image of their cause (Theory!) and a recoding of tired critiques of so-called ‘postmodernism’ into the popular (and faux populist/read ‘nationalist’) terms of today’s anti-intellectualism.

It strikes me that this is a pretty good proof-by-example of one of the contentions of several posts during our event: namely, that discussion often grounds out, unsatisfactorily, due to tediously transparent denialism on the theory side. (See also: the history of neocon apologetics.) The term, ‘theory’, is not just understood but voluntarily employed - and with a quite fine degree of precision and nuance - by those who ‘do theory’. There is such a thing as a ‘theory blog’, which will be marked by a distinctive style of appropriation of, and attitude towards, a more or less specifiable set of (mostly European) thinkers. Dean herself clearly takes it to be obvious and not in need of much explanation, let alone conceptual defense, that ‘theory blogging’ will not include most philosophy blogs, of which there are, of course, scores and scores; let alone other academic blogs, including academic blogs about politics and culture and so forth. It won’t include Michael Bérubé because, even though he is sympathetic in many ways, he doesn’t clearly ‘do theory’. The piece drops the heavy hint that there is not just something importantly distinctive but distinctively good about theory blogging. But how could this be due to anything but the distinctive, good character of theory? And if it makes sense to assert it is distinctively good, can it really be nonsense to consider that it might be distinctively bad?

UPDATE: I expect I will soon have it pointed out to me that the conception of ‘theory’ Dean is presupposing is tendentious; that is, it isn’t really clear she is drawing the line in the right place. Yes, for what it is worth, that is certainly true.

UPDATE the 2nd: Jodi Dean responds. I think she misses the point. More peculiarly, she credits Kotsko with the comic insight that my posts are ‘send ups’. Good heavens. As Empson says: “surely we can take some things for granted.” If Dean thinks she has ever once seen me with a straight face, it’s a miracle she didn’t accuse me of being insane instead of just mistaken. Perhaps she was being polite.

And as to the kerfuffle. I really don’t think that Adam and Rich should talk to each other any more. And am henceforth pursuing a no-fault deletion policy, at the suggestion of the omni-fault-finding John Emerson. (I guess it’s one of those ‘only Nixon could go to China’ things.) No obviously profitless abuse allowed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Framing Theory’s Empire - Event and Text

Posted by John Holbo on 12/05/07 at 11:24 PM

I’ve got a book out! Framing Theory’s Empire [amazon]; or support your local independent publisher by buying direct. You can buy the paperback or download the entire book as a free PDF from the Parlor Press site. UPDATE: and it’s been marked down! Now Parlor direct is cheaper than Amazon. $17.60 vs. $22! A bargain! I’m still waiting for my paper copy to show. (Any of you contributors out there gotten yours yet?) I think the cover is rather handsome. But, then: a father should love his child. The lovely Belle Waring and I designed it together.


A book, eh? See here! What’s all this about? ‘Theory’? Yes, exactly! In the English/humanities department sense: the idiomatically ofless sort, you might say; as in, ‘I do theory’. The stuff that started in the 60’s, got really big in the 80’s. Then either went away or is still hanging around, depending who you ask. (If you ask me: it’s still hanging around.)

If you spent late 2005 in a coma and missed all the glory, we staged a ‘book event’, round-table reviewing the Patai and Corral edited Theory’s Empire (Columbia UP, 2005). See the sidebar for link. Framing Theory’s Empire contains contributions to that event, cleaned up, polished up, edited. (I’ve written an introduction, talking about these issues. If you care to read it.)

The contributors are: Scott McLemee (he generously contributed a preface), John Holbo, Mark Bauerlein, Michael Bérubé, John McGowan, Scott Kaufman, Sean McCann, Daniel Green, Adam Kotsko, Tim Burke, Amardeep Singh, Jonathan Mayhew, Jonathan Goodwin, Chris Cagle, Christopher Conway, Kathleen Lowrey, Brad DeLong, Matthew Greenfield, Morris Dickstein, Jeffrey Wallen, John Emerson, Mark Kaplan, Jodi Dean, Kenneth Rufo, Daphne Patai, Will H. Corral. (Patai and Corral were kind enough to contribute an “Afterword”. At the moment Amazon is giving them erroneous prominence, in the author line. I’ll have to see whether I can get Amazon to correct that. Not that I mind so very much. They themselves will probably be even more annoyed, because it might create some product confusion with Theory’s Empire itself.)

It’s the perfect stocking stuffer for the humanities graduate student on YOUR list!

I think it turned out to be a really great book. In addition to several posts that turned out to be just plain really solid essays, there is some lively, sharp conversation between several participants. There’s intelligent back and forth, actual addressing of critical points and hashing of differences, which is not something one always gets in themed anthologies. I think the informal quality of many of the pieces turns out to be a real virtue as well. It suits the topic. But you tell me. What do you think of the book? What do you think about our event, two years on?

I’m glad to get this done as well because, frankly, my Glassbead Books efforts for Parlor haven’t been quite rolling off the assembly-line, as I had originally hoped. It turns out making books is incredibly hard and time consuming, and folks don’t do stuff when you tell them to, and it’s hard to get folks to commit to helping out. Academics are always busy. I’m hoping that, with a grand total of TWO titles out now we’ve actually got a series. That is, a line, not just a single point. Anyway, next comes our Moretti book - I think. I want to get these things rolling out a lot faster.

Friday, November 21, 2008

How not to use Theory’s Empire

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/21/08 at 06:49 AM

Scanning through the critical literature on Kafka—the dissertation finished, I’m free to pursue old ideas—I run into an essay which uses Theory’s Empire in the very manner the anthology’s critics assumed everyone would.  I will, however, Google-proof my exasperation by replacing all mentions of Derrida and things Derridean with cognates of the word carrot.  The essay begins:

The 2005 volume includes major reassessments of poststructuralist theory, notably [The Carrot’s] . . . . The emphasis on “undecidability” in Kafka can be viewed as symptomatic of the influence of [Carrot] Theory embraced by the American literary academy in the 1970s and 1980s . . . . But [lowercase-c carrot’s] skeptical effect undermined the certitude that Kafka was a politically important novelist. For its detractors, the [carrotist] view that there is “nothing outside of the text” ignores that texts like Kafka’s have shaped human lives and human history.

Reductive enough for you?  No?  How about this?

Wellek, who helped to introduce [Carrot] theory to American literature departments, now asserts that [carrots] have destroyed literary studies, while Frederick Crews argues that “[the Carrot’s] judgment that ‘there is nothing outside the text’ automatically precludes recourse to evidence.” In Crews’s view, “both [the Carrot] and his myriad followers think nothing of appropriating and denaturing propositions from systems of thought whose premises they have already rejected.” Thomas Nagel goes further in condemning “post-modern relativism” as a “quick fix” which puts reason to sleep. In Theory’s Empire, [the Carrot]’s language is described as a “maze,” a “prison house of language,” a “limbo of combined attention and nonassertion."

These assessments appeal to raw authority.  Crews and Nagel hate on [the Carrot] and rightly so.  Why?  Because [the Carrot’s] language is as empty and invidious as that of Kafka’s bureaucrats:

[T]o what degree do [the Carrot’s] rhetorical devices and ingenious language games resemble the language of the Courtiers who torture Joseph K.?

Care to guess what conclusion the author draws?  I take comfort in the thought that everyone will admit this is an awful appropriation of the thought forwarded in Theory’s Empire—that it is to academic argument what posts on Kos are to nuanced political thought—but remember that this sort of anti-intellectual response is exactly what the anthology’s detractors warned would follow if it ever gained traction.  While I think this falls under “the abuses” instead of “the uses” of the collection, I still feel the queasy creep of wrongness starting to settle in . . . .

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