Posts by Guest Authors
Friday, July 15, 2005
The Death and Discontent of Theory
This is a guest post by Jeffrey Wallen, whose “Criticism as Displacement” appears in Theory’s Empire. - the editor
Reading through the very thoughtful posts about “theory” (with a capital T and/or a small t), about whether or not it exists (McGowan: “1) Theory with a capital T does not exist"), and whether or not it has been imperial and hegemonic, one irony keeps recurring to me. Most of the people I know, or at least most of the people I went to grad school with (the Humanities Center at Johns Hopkins, in the early and mid ‘80s), think that theory died, or rather was asphyxiated, some time shortly after the death of Paul de Man. The sorts of concerns and practices that seemed to be at the center of literary criticism in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s were now largely viewed as obsolete and tainted. The grand horizons for future deconstructive work projected by Paul de Man and Hillis Miller were mostly abandoned, and all of a sudden it became *very* difficult to get a job coming out of Yale in Comp. Lit.Continue reading "The Death and Discontent of Theory"
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Thinking About Theory’s Empire
This is a guest post by Morris Dickstein, contributor to Theory’s Empire and author of many things. He has a new book out: A Mirror in the Roadway: Literature and the Real World. You can read a sample chapter here. Here is a review. - the editor
Because of the impressive scope and seriousness of the essays in Theory’s Empire, the book ultimately gives a devastating account of the academic literary culture of the last thirty years. To their credit, the editors excluded the many journalistic attacks on theory that came out in the 1980s and ‘90s. Most of them were based on little acquaintance with the work itself; instead they offered second-hand accounts of barbarisms of style, the preposterous titles of MLA papers, and the knee-jerk political bent of much of the writing itself. Theory’s Empire also leaves out politically motivated attacks by neoconservatives, invariably arising out of a biased and superficial familiarity with theory. Once in a while such critiques made telling points, usually in a satirical vein, and they helped make English professors the laughingstock of both the larger public and serious professionals in other fields. But they contributed little to the debate within literary studies itself, which, despite its political turn, had effectively opted out of the public sphere, acknowledging criticism within its own frame of discourse. Theory-minded academics saw little but retrograde ignorance, willed malice, and anti-intellectualism in these tendentious accounts, and it had no public language of its own to respond in kind.Continue reading "Thinking About Theory’s Empire"
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Why I love theory / Why I hate theory
Why I love theory
Theory is a large subject for me, because it has been a part of my intellectual life in the profession for more than twenty years. In graduate school I took several theory classes: narrative theory, theory of the lyric--even a course just on the work of Roland Barthes. I have been heavil influenced, at one time or another by theorists like Barthes, Kenneth Burke, Maurice Blanchot, Walter Benjamin, Charles Bernstein. I have pondered the question of why so many theorists have last names starting with B. (Any ideas, Michael Bérubé?) I have taught courses in theory as well. I have spent many profitable hours with Epistemology of the Closet, a work inflected with Derridean interpretive modes and devoted to the close reading of canonical texts of literature. I think the story of the development of theory from Russian Formalism (which I love) to the present day is fascinating. It is the story of how intellectuals have incorporated the ideas of their time into the study of literature. I love watching how Kenneth Burke uses Freud and Marx to develop an idea of literature as symbolic action. How Barthes in his brilliantly dilettantish way tries to develop a “science” of literature from whatever intellectual currents were available to him. I love how current theorists use Wittgenstein or Gadamer to explain how we understand poetry.
So I love theory. How could anyone be against theory in general? Il n’y a pas de hors théorie.
See below the fold for why I hate theory.Continue reading "Why I love theory / Why I hate theory"
A Respose to “The Deconstructive Angel”
This is a guest post by Adam Kotsko, graduate student at the Chicago Theological Seminary and proprietor of The Weblog. He is on vacation from blogging this week so he can blog at the Valve.
I wish to take issue primarily with one sentence in M. H. Abrams’ contribution to Theory’s Empire, “The Deconstructive Angel”; it is exemplary of the register in which Abrams’ misreading operates:
Continue reading "A Respose to “The Deconstructive Angel”"
What is distinctive about Derrida is first that, like other French structuralists, he shifts his inquiry from language to écriture, the written or printed text; and second that he conceives a text in an extraordinarily limited fashion (202).
Monday, June 06, 2005
Guest Post: An MFA Student Ponders His Navel and Life After the Degree
Towards the end of this month, I will complete the final requirements for my MFA in creative writing (a 45 minute lecture on the use of dual points-of-view in short fiction, focusing on the Andre Dubus story “Townies”; and a brief reading from my thesis, a 300 page novel-in-progress). On the occasion of this most momentous and horrifying milestone, our fine editor, John Holbo, has asked me to step out from behind my administrator’s mask and to pontificate for a few paragraphs. I shall endeavor not to make this Holbonically long, but I do have a few things to say as I stand with my peers at this precipice, waiting, like so many lemmings, for our chance to plunge into the icy depths of the so-called real world.Continue reading "Guest Post: An MFA Student Ponders His Navel and Life After the Degree"