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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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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

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Useful and Interesting Bibliography

Posted by Amardeep Singh on 05/26/05 at 08:34 AM

In response to some queries yesterday about the contents of Theory’s Empire, which will be discussed on The Valve in some depth in the coming weeks, I thought I would offer the full bibliographic information on a selection of the essays to be found in the volume. (A rather tedious way to spend a couple of hours, yes. Consider it atonement for mentioning Hitchens.)

In fact, only a few of the essays in the volume originally appeared in electronically-accessible journals; most appeared in books. Below the fold, look for hints or links in boldface on where to look for some of the essays online or in journal databases. People who have access to a university library might also find the non-online bibliography useful: if inspired, you can go directly to the books cited.

If a few of the essays named interest you, and you don’t want to go rummaging around for all this stuff, consider buying the book. I think the articles are pretty intellectually diverse; only a small number are of the “Bad writing, tsk tsk” or “Too much politics, tsk tsk” variety.

A note on bibliographic format: Since I took the bibliographic information from the footer on the first page of each essay named, I’m generally following the editors’ format. In some cases, perhaps because anthologies require different citational conventions, the format they are using seems a bit unusual. I occasionally modified the bibliographic format slightly for purposes of simplicity.

A Selection of Essays to be found in Theory’s Empire: An Anthology of Dissent. Edited by Daphne Patai and Will H. Corral. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Theory Rising

Valentine Cunningham, “Theory, What Theory?” Abridged from Reading After Theory by Valentine Cunningham 13-37. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

Rene Wellek “Destroying Literary Studies.” Originally published in The New Criterion 2, no. 4 (December 1983): 1-8.

Tzvetan Todorov, “Traveling Through American Criticism.” [Originally published in French] Reprinted from Literature and Its Theorists: A Personal View of Twentieth Century Criticism, by Tzvetan Todorov, 182-91. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987.

Denis Donoghue. “Theory, Theories, and Principles.” Originally published in The Practice of Reading, by Denis Donoghue, 20-33. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Linguistic Turns

Raymond Tallis. “The Linguistic Unconscious: Saussure and the Post-Saussureans.” From Enemies of Hope: A Critique of Contemporary Pessimism, by Raymond Tallis, 272-89. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997.

John R. Searle. “Literary Theory and Its Discontents.” Originally Published in New Literary History 25, no. 3 (Summer 1994): 637-67. [JSTOR]

Vincent Descombes, “The Quandaries of the Referent.” [Originally published in French] English translation by Gwen Wells, originally published in The Limits of Theory, edited and with an introduction by Thomas M. Kavanagh, 51-75. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989.

M.H. Abrams, “The Deconstructive Angel.” Originally published in Critical Inquiry 3, no. 3 (1977): 425-38. Reprinted by permission of the author, from Doing Things with Texts: Esays in Criticism and Critical Theory, by M.H. Abrams, edited and with a foreword by Michale Fischer, 237-52. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1989.  [Direct link: Critical Inquiry]

Empire Building

Alan B. Spitzer, “The Debate Over the Wartime Writings of Paul de Man: The Language of Setting the Record Straight.” Abridged by the author from Historical Truth and Lies About The Past: Reflections on Dewey, Dreyfus, de Man, and Reagan, by Alan B. Spitzer. Copyright 1996 The University of California Press.

Erin O’Connor. “Preface for a Post-Postcolonial Criticism.” Adapted by the author from Victorian Studies 45, no. 2 (Winter 2003): 217-46. [Project Muse]

Theory as a Profession

Clara Claiborne Park. “Author! Author! Reconstructing Roland Barthes.” Reprinted by permission from The Hudson Review 43, no. 3 (Autumn 1990): 377-98. [Possibly through EBSCOhost]

Niilo Kauppi. “The French Intellectual Habitus and Literary Culture. Revised by the author from French Intellectual Nobility: Institutional and Symbolic Transformations in the Post-Sartrian Era, by Niilo Kauppi, 25-33. Albany: The State University of New York Press, 1996.

Mark Bauerlein. “Social Constructionism: Philosophy for the Academic Workplace.” Originally published in Partisan Review 68, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 228-41.

Stephen Adam Schwartz. “Everyman an Ubermensch: The Culture of Cultural Studies.” Abridged by the author from SubStance 29, no. 1:104-38. 2000. [Project Muse]

Geoffrey Galt Harpham. “The End of Theory, the Rise of the Profession: A Rant in Search of Responses.” Originally published in Professions: Conversations on the Future of Literary and Cultural Studies, edited by Donald E. Hall. Copyright University of Illinois Press. 2001.


Elaine Marks, “Feminism’s Perverse Effects.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25, no. 4 (Summer 2000): 1162-66. [JSTOR]

Lee Siegel, “Queer Theory, Literature, and the Sexualization of Everything: The Gay Science.” Originally published in The New Republic, 9 November 1998, 30-42. [Lexis-Nexis]

Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Battle of the Bien-Pensant.” Originally published in The New York Review of Books, 27 April 2000, 42-44.

Theory as Surrogate Politics

Richard Levin, “Silence is Consent, or Curse Ye Meroz!” College English 59, no. 2 (February 1997): 171-190. 1997. [JSTOR]

Russell Jacoby, “Thick Aestheticism and Thin Nativism.” Abridged by the author from The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy, by Russell Jacoby, 125-54. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Eugene Goodheart, “Casualties of the Culture Wars.” Originally published in Clio: A Journal of Literature, History, and the Philosophy of History 32, no. 2 (2003): 205-8.

Restoring Reason

Noam Chomsky, “Rationalty/Science.” Abridged from Z Papers 1, no. 4 (October-December 1992): 52-57.

Jean Bricmont and Alan Sokal, “The Furor Over Impostures Intellectuelles: What Is All The Fuss About?” Originally Published in the Times Literary Supplement, 17 October 1997, 17.  [Library subscription/TLS website]

Thomas Nagel, “The Sleep Of Reason.” Originally published in The New Republic, 12 October 1998, 32-38. [Lexis-Nexis]

Susan Haack, “Staying For An Answer: The Untidy Process Of Groping For Truth.” Originally published in the Times Literary Supplement, 9 July 1999, 12-14.  [Library subscription/TLS website]

Paul A. Boghossian, “What is Social Construction?” Originally published in Times Literary Supplement, 23 February 2001, 6-8. [Library subscription/TLS website]

Meera Nanda, “Postcolonial Science Studies: Ending ‘Epistemic Violence.’” Revised from Meera Nanda, Prophets Facing Backwards: Postmodern Critiques of Science and Hindu Nationalism in India, 151-59. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2003.

Still Reading After All These Theories

Frank Kermode, “Changing Epochs.” From What’s Happened to the Humanities? Edited by Alvin Kernan, 162-78. Copyright 1997, Prinecton University Press.

Marjorie Perloff, “Crisis in the Humanities? Reconfiguring Literary Study for the Twenty-First Century.” Adapted from Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy, by Marjorie Perloff. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 2004. Originally published as “In Defense of Poetry,” Boston Review 24, no. 6 (December 1999/January 2000): 22-26.
[Direct link: Boston Review]


Hey, that’s very useful indeed, Amardeep! Thanks for that.

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 10:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Number one google hit for the Chomsky.

By Jonathan on 05/26/05 at 11:03 AM | Permanent link to this comment

That’s a vintage Chomsky smackdown.  He’s been saying the same kind of thing about Theory for decades now.  Has anyone written a well-known answer to him?

By on 05/26/05 at 04:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Here’s a link for the Thomas Nagal.  My short opinion: it’s not very good, too much psychological theorizing about why Theorists hold to their theories.

By on 05/26/05 at 04:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The inclusion of Chomsky seems motivated solely by a chain of reasoning that goes something like, Chomsky criticizes Theory, Chomsky is politically of the Left, therefore the critique of Theory can’t be called reactionary.

Of course Chomsky was probably right about the vulgar critique of science he encountered at the conference which was the occasion for his remarks. And obviously the more free-associative flights Sokal skewers in his parody were inviting targets (the solution here would probably be for the more ludic of these kinds of writers to be less defensive, and more ‘gee-whiz, I’m just riffing, very well then I contradict myself.’ An attitude which would actually mesh nicely with their program). I’m not a big anti-science guy myself, but there are questions raised by a book like Marcuse’s One-Dimensional Man for which I don’t have good answers, and neither do Chomsky or Sokal.

I had a physics prof who brought up the Sokal hoax in this totally smirking way; he later (or maybe earlier) happened to mention that he once worked at Los Alamos or Livermore or someplace like. I could just picture this guy, chuckling over the Lingua Franca article that revealed the hoax, as he pulled into the parking space at the H-bomb factory.

By on 05/26/05 at 08:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Motivated solely, kth?  Chomsky is an important left theorist, scientist, and public intellectual; why shouldn’t he be included?  Of course, calling his statement reactionary does not answer it, and your story about the snickering putative bomb maker is also not an answer.  I inquire again; has anyone written a well-known answer to Chomsky?  A link to a good one would be appreciated.

By on 05/26/05 at 09:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

kth, Chomsky is a linguist of some stature and his piece has some potential merit (let us grant). Why then assume its inclusion was made ‘solely’ for other reasons besides these obvious ones.

But regarding the chain of reasoning you impute, your tone suggests you see something fallacious or erroneous. Do you? But all the premises, and the conclusion, are true. And the conclusion, if tweaked slightly, seems to follow from the premises. Chomsky criticizes Theory (true); Chomsky is politically of the Left (true); the critique of Theory can’t be called reactionary (true). Well, the latter should be tightened up to read something like: therefore, the assumption that critics of Theory must have reactionary motives is false (true). Do you have a problem with this conclusion? If so, what is it?

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 09:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Some stature” is actually a bit of an understatement.  Chomsky is generally considered to be one of the two most influential theoreticians of 20th century linguistics (the other being Saussure).

By on 05/26/05 at 09:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Irony, Rich! Irony! Get with the program!

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 10:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The contradiction of “the critique of Theory can’t be called reactionary” isn’t “critics of Theory must have reactionary motives”, but merely “some critics of Theory have reactionary motives”. And even if the conclusion is true, it is independent of the premises: if the anti-theory program is not right-wing in character, the fact that Noam Chomsky, outspoken critic of American power, agrees with some of their views is no proof of it. And please don’t even try to tell me that his prominent public role had nothing to do with the decision to include him in the volume.

By on 05/26/05 at 10:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Chomsky’s piece is actually a pretty sober, serious response to some of the criticisms of “science” that one sees coming out of the Theory crowd.  It is certainly more useful than the sort of smirking dismissals that come from conservatives.  I think it was probably including in the book on the merits.  The fact that Chomsky is a also a prominent leftist is just gravy.

By on 05/26/05 at 10:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

...Thomas Nagal.  My short opinion: it’s not very good, too much psychological theorizing about why Theorists hold to their theories.

Too much psychological theorizing?  I see almost none.  Maybe I’m blind.

By Zehou on 05/26/05 at 10:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Someone with access to the book has got to tell me right now if the editors left in the line from Chomsky’s piece about the “boring clerical work (sometimes called ‘scholarship.’)”

Because, in context, that’s nettlesome.

By Jonathan on 05/26/05 at 10:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, kth, you seem not to have read your own earlier comment carefully enough. What Rich and I objected to was YOUR suggestion (not ours) that that Chomsky’s inclusion has NOTHING to do with his public, prominent stature as an academic and intellectual. You say his inclusion can be due ‘solely’ to the fact that he’s ‘politically on the left’ which is not the same at all. Lots of people who are on the left are not prominent, after all.

As to your point that the conclusion of the argument is independent of the premises: why is that a problem with an argument? It is often possible to prove things by different routs.

As to the rest of your comment, admittedly I tweaked your original formulation of the line of reasoning to make it a bit less senseless. But this was an act of charity on my part. Were you really saying that the editors MUST be thinking something totally senseless to have included Chomsky? Why?

Look, the main point - do you grant it or not? - is that making inferences about the politics of those who are against Theory, on the basis of this single data point, is unwarranted. ‘Theory’ - for a variety of cultural reasons - is a left-wing phenomenon. If you are a righty, you don’t ‘do Theory’. But anti-Theory is not strongly enough correlated with any point, or points, on the political compass to make this into a left-right struggle. So casting it as a left-right struggle is just throwing sand in everyone’s eyes. Yes, do you agree? If not, why not?

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 10:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan, give me some context for the quote, if it’s there, and I’ll check. Beginning, middle or end. Surrounding text. (If it’s gone I don’t want to hunt fruitlessly for it.)

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 10:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Here’s the full quote:

It is simply that nature and logic impose a harsh discipline: in many domains, one can spin fanciful tales with impunity or keep to the most boring clerical work (sometimes called “scholarship"); in the sciences, your tales will be refuted and you will be left behind by students who want to understand something about the world, not satisfied to let such matters be “someone else’s concern."

By on 05/26/05 at 10:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry, that was absent-minded of me to ask for the context. Obviously I should have just clicked the link myself. (Somehow I was hallucinating that Jonathan had different paper in front of him that I couldn’t see. Does that make sense? No.) Anyway, the quote is there, intact, p. 531.

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 10:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I was interested to see that a bit of Niilo Kauppi’s French Intellectual Nobility is one of the selections. The citation suggests that only the first two chapters are included in Theory’s Empire (I don’t know for sure since my chances of finding a copy around here are roughly nil). A shame, given the recent dust-up here over Althusser. Here is a bit from chapter six, about Althusser’s “method” as described in L’avenir dure longtemps:

Before starting to read philosophical texts, Althusser would draw up a few formulas or sketches, reconstructing the general traits of the philosophy in question. Only after these preliminary operations, would he carefully read a few selected passages of the work in question. Thus, in a sense what was sought had to be known beforehand. By presenting his “philosophical technique” openly and acknowledging his—and others—ignorance of many philosophical works, Althusser, probably due to his mental illness, in fact broke with a specific form of symbolic domination in the French intellectual field. Althusser’s autobiography is a unique document in the sense that in it a key intellectual figure reveals his and his fellow intellectuals’ limits, anxieties, and fears, as well as the close relationship between institutional framework (the Ecole Normale Superieure) and discursive practices (criteria of excellence). The specific form of symbolic domination is based on a logic of the oblique, on the fear of ridicule, of the mask falling, and of ignorance and mediocrity being revealed.

An example he cites from L’avenir dure longtemps:

Of course, my philosophical culture of texts was rather limited. Descartes and Malebranche I knew well, Spinoza a bit, Aristotle, the sophists, and the stoics not at all; Plato, fairly well; Kant not at all; some Hegel; and finally, I knew a few passages from Marx very well.

I’d love to know how many folks outside of France have had a serious intellectual encounter with Malebranche.

L’avenir dure longtemps is definitely on my reading list for this summer....

By R Crew on 05/26/05 at 10:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I have to say that it’s then obvious that, as far as Chomsky is concerned, if you do literary studies, it’s either harmful bullshit or boring clerical work. Now I like to mix both categories up in my own work, so this doesn’t bother me a bit. I’m not sure about Chomsky’s fellow contributors to that volume, however.

To repeat myself somewhat, for Chomsky, writing that essay was a profound waste of time. He is precisely as contemptuous of one side of the debate as he is the other. I think that’s kind of funny.

By Jonathan on 05/26/05 at 11:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If by “roughly nil” you mean, “I can’t be bothered to check it out from my library,” then yes, I’d agree with you. (The Nobility book is there, and the other is on order.)

By Jonathan on 05/26/05 at 11:07 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t think Chomsky was being contemptuous at all.  To the contrary, I thought he was trying very hard to be diplomatic in his rebuttal.  The “clerical work” crack was directed to all non-science scholarship, not literary studies in particular.

By on 05/26/05 at 11:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If by “roughly nil” you mean, “I can’t be bothered to check it out from my library,” then yes, I’d agree with you. (The Nobility book is there, and the other is on order.)

“On order” means I’m not going to find it in the library. What was your point?

By R Crew on 05/26/05 at 11:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought you were talking about the other book, which is there. If it’s on order, it’ll be there shortly. And there’s a decent chance that Goering’s or one of the chains would have it, what the Columbia imprimatur and all (nothing sells better than this type of book in a general-interst bookstore you know).

By Jonathan on 05/26/05 at 11:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Follow-up thought about the right-left thing. It is obviously the case that conservative intellectuals, op-ed writers, talk radio jocks, etc. will readily buy into the anti-Theory line on enemy of my enemy is my friend grounds. Theory is certainly leftist, and that will be enough for many to oppose it. Conservatives will duly fulminate about the evils of post-modernism and deconstruction. It would be uncharitable to assume that none of this lot actually do their homework to know what they are talking about. But it would also be reasonable to assume that this lot will not be your first pick for finding the best, most knowledgable, most nuanced, most charitable, most balanced anti-Theory philosophical arguments. And if you generalize from this predictably unrepresentative set, it can only be by means of the crudest sort of ‘all my enemies must be each others’ friends’ logic.

In sum, not only is it unwarranted to infer that anti-Theory = reactionary, because actually anti-Theory is not correlated with any point on the political compass; it is also the case that those critics of Theory you do find this way will be selected for incapacity for intellectual engagement, since they are the most likely to have signed up to fight without knowing anything much except that the folks on the other side are lefty. Surely defenders of Theory should be interested in confronting the strongest opposition, not the weakest.

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 11:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for the quotes, R Crew. That’s interesting. Only a brief selection from Kauppi is in the book. pp. 25-33 from French Intellectual Nobility, so says the bottom of the page.

By John Holbo on 05/26/05 at 11:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Zehou (re Nagal): “Too much psychological theorizing?  I see almost none.  Maybe I’m blind.”

Part I of his piece describes Sokal and Bricmont’s book, and doesn’t say much else (other than to repeatedly characterize the Sokal hoax as “hilarious").  Part II starts with a bit of boilerplate about science, and goes into a short history of philosophy of science (logical positivism, Popper, Kuhn).  Part III is an attack on relativism that veers into a bit on the difficulty of intuitively understanding modern physics, intending to explain that this difficulty doesn’t mean that you have to “abandon the idea of an objective, mind-independent reality”.  All of this, so far, struck me as a recapitulation of familiar ideas and things said elsewhere, and I didn’t consider it worth commenting on.

Part IV is where the problem comes.  Here are some of what I consider to be psychological characterizations:

“The embrace of relativism by many leftist intellectuals in the United States, while it may not be politically very important, is a terrible admission of failure, and an excuse for not answering the claims of their political opponents.”

“The new relativists, with Nietzschean extravagance, have merely extended their exposure of the hollowness of pretensions to objectivity to science and everything else. Like its narrower predecessor, this form of analysis sees “objectivity” as a mask for the exercise of power, and so provides a natural vehicle for the expression of class hatred.”

“Postmodernism’s specifically academic appeal comes from its being another in the sequence of all-purpose “unmasking” strategies that offer a way to criticize the intellectual efforts of others not by engaging with them on the ground, but by diagnosing them from a superior vantage point and charging them with inadequate self-awareness.”

I think there’s a big jump between saying “Postmodernism is wrong in its analysis of science” and saying “Here are the various disreputable reasons why people are attracted to postmodernism.”

By on 05/26/05 at 11:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Chomsky has always been, in every respect, on his own page. For example, on the left but unmistakably non- or anti-Marxist. He defended the sociobiologists. He talks about innate ideas.

He represents only himself, so it all comes down to whether the specific things he says are right ot not, rather than “where he stands” or “who he’s with”.

By John Emerson on 05/27/05 at 12:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Only a brief selection from Kauppi is in the book. pp. 25-33 from French Intellectual Nobility, so says the bottom of the page.

That would be chapter two—thanks…

By R Crew on 05/27/05 at 12:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan: “as far as Chomsky is concerned, if you do literary studies, it’s either harmful bullshit or boring clerical work. [...] He is precisely as contemptuous of one side of the debate as he is the other.”

No, I don’t think so.  Chomsky thinks that both accurate history and humanist education are important as part of his sociopolitical goals; literary studies impinges on both of these to some degree.  He also clearly wants to affect the way in which leftist intellectuals contribute to society, and literary studies is a prominent source of leftist intellectuals.  I don’t think that his ideas about what parts of literary studies he likes break down easily along the sides of this debate, but I don’t think that he is equally contemptuous of all of literary studies.

None of which means anything in terms of whether he’s right or not in his essay, of course.

By on 05/27/05 at 12:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The problem with evaluating that essay is that it was specifically written in response to other essays. It was not a good decision on the editors’ part to include a piece that can’t be understood without necessary supplementary material.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Mark Bauerlein’s contribution, and I’d suggest that the point about tenure is deeply flawed because it does not consider the conditions that obtain at non-research universities. It seems as if that the non-book requiring classes are not worthy of notice or comment, or perhaps they just don’t fit the argument well enough.

By Jonathan on 05/27/05 at 12:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Characteristically for the younger generation of scholars, I commented too hastily, as Bauerlein’s penultimate paragraph does acknowledge how the other half lives. I’d guess that the bft extends beyond seventy-five schools, though. And that paragraph could probably do a bit more to explain why the point is relevant.

By Jonathan on 05/27/05 at 01:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Could somebody direct me, please, back to the entry on The Valve that explains what the proposal is with this book?  I missed it, somehow.

By Laura on 05/27/05 at 07:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Go here for the original post. We haven’t really finalized plans yet, except that there is to be a maxi-review, mini-conference about the book in the next month or two. You are most welcome to contribute.

By John Holbo on 05/27/05 at 09:13 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“Theory is certainly leftist . . .”

Doesn’t seem certain to me.

By on 05/27/05 at 10:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Really, Sean? I think of that as being a fairly definitive identifying marker of the genre. I think anyone who ‘does Theory’ is almost certainly in a certain cultural stream of post-60’s academic leftism. One reason why Theory can maintain it’s integrity as a genre, in the face of post-Theory eclecticism about ... well, about theories, is that Theory expresses an enduring cultural sensibility. I actually don’t mean that in a bad way. It is, of course, true that many people have theories and theorize about literature and do philosophy and so forth, and they may have any political allegiances whatsoever. And many people who ‘do Theory’ are not notably theoretically inclined, in the sense of offering arguments and general accounts and being knowledgable about philosophy and so forth. Quite the contrary, in many cases. Anyway, ‘Theory’ - as in ‘Theory’s Empire’ - is something very culturally particular. Can you give an example of a non-leftist Theorist, in the relevant sense?

I suppose one can grandfather in figures like Heidegger. But I wouldn’t say that Heidegger ‘does Theory’. That sounds anachronistic. No one ‘did Theory’ before 1965 or so.

It may be that you are just pointing out that being interested in theorizing is not indigenous to the left, which is certainly true.

By John Holbo on 05/27/05 at 11:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think there’s a difference between being a leftist and being a liberal. Stanely Fish might be the latter in some senses, maybe, but he’s certainly not the former. (Of course, I think you’re indulging in your annoying philosopher-king overgeneralizations about “offering arguments” and such, but I’m not going get into it right in this comment.)

Degree of commitment to political change and extent of change so advocated would be the defining marker, there. The argument about to what extent the “Theoretical” work can have a practical impact on the political commitment is worth having.

By Jonathan on 05/27/05 at 11:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think that a lot of the confusion comes in with the difference between Theory and theory.  Chomsky, for instance, has been mining this vein for comedic gold for years.  (A too-cool-to-be-serious attitude is one of the primary defenses of Theorists against any claim that they are talking nonsense.  Chomsky counters this with studied naivete, as if to ask why these Theorists are trying to fool a poor scientist who doesn’t know better than to use the word “theory” in its normal usage.)

By on 05/27/05 at 11:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmmmm, post in haste, repent at leisure. I suppose there are some Theorists who are more apolitical. And I suppose all Theorists at least write a sort of metaphysical poetry, i.e. are nominally interested in some or other philosophical issue. This is really a question about how the term ‘Theory’ - i.e. the name for the post-60’s thing - gets used.

By John Holbo on 05/27/05 at 11:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Remember, Rich, that Chomsky is extending that to everyone in the social sciences and humanities. He’s actually far more annoyed by political scientists and economists than literary theorists, for predictable reasons.

By Jonathan on 05/27/05 at 11:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Drat, Jonathan and Rich responded before I could repent at leisure. Damn you, leisure! Jonathan is right that my point about Theory not necessarily involving the offering of arguments is a bit arch and snarky. But I think it’s also true. There is ‘Theory’ as theater, or spectacle, or performance. There is a reason some folks emphasize that side of the etymological heritage, as it were.

By John Holbo on 05/27/05 at 11:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree John that a major, maybe only, element in the cohesiveness of Theory is something like a cultural sensibility that styles itself leftist.  And, of course, it wouldn’t be fair to just dismiss that self-understanding.  But it is worth considering what’s meant by left.  I don’t think Theory shows much concern with or even affinity for some of the major concerns traditionally associated with the left--class, inequality, exploitation, say, or, less radically, security, compensation, regulation.  To the extent it shows a common sensibility, I think one of its major traits is radical individualism.

By on 05/27/05 at 11:34 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree that Chomsky is more annoyed by e.g. economists, but he really does treat them differently than he treats literary theorists.  He doesn’t do the theory-Theory confusion or studied naivete thing with them, preferring to instead accuse them of genocide and so on.  Most of Theorists’ defense of their work has always struck me as being primarily attitudinal (c.f. kth’s “the solution here would probably be for the more ludic of these kinds of writers to be less defensive, and more ‘gee-whiz, I’m just riffing, very well then I contradict myself’"), so all that Chomsky really has to do is strike the corresponding attitude of Rational Enlightenment Man.

As for the difference between leftist and liberal—as Adam Kotsko pointed out here a while back, to a contemporary leftist, every non-leftist is a neoliberal.  To which I’d add that for many contemporary leftists, every old-style Communist is a state capitalist, i.e. a neoliberal.  This is how kth can imply that Chomsky is somehow reactionary; leftism in some quarters has become a purely attitudinal system in which everyone without the proper attitude is part of an undiffentiated mass.

By on 05/27/05 at 12:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

If you’re interested in what Sean McCann just said about the academic left, see John Guillory’s Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation.

Where Guillory goes all Marxist on the “liberal pluralism” of raceclassgender inclusiveness… Interesting stuff, poking at the inconsistency between antiessentialist theory and essentialist canonical revision. Theory and practice problem…

Just happen to be looking at this book today… Was actually thinking that Guillory’s book would make an excellent candidate for the Valve Reading Series.

By cultrev on 05/27/05 at 04:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In discussing “Theory’s Empire,” keep in mind the “empire” part. One goal of the anthology is to demonstrate some alternatives to the same old stuff you see in theory/criticism anthologies and on Intro to Theory syllabi. However much theorists wish to play the adversarial rebel part, they are now and have been for 25 years The Establishment. And the cliquish institutional behavior that has grown up around them has not only produced a humorless, touchy climate in the humanities, but it has made Establishment Theory into an intellectually stale enterprise.  As a whole, “Theory’s Empire” isn’t anti-theory. It’s anti-dogma.

By on 05/27/05 at 05:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You mean like in Hazard Adams?

By Jonathan on 05/27/05 at 06:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Guillory book is certainly discussion-worthy. I propose that we postpone the Theory’s Empire discussion until after we’ve all written about it.

By Jonathan on 05/27/05 at 06:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Cultrev and Jonathan,

I would also enjoy talking about the Guillory book. I’ve never read it, but been meaning to for a long time…

By Amardeep on 05/28/05 at 09:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m up for Guillory. I too have been meaning to give a look for a while. Why don’t we informally commit to having a sort of chat about it, say, next week? Or later? Give people time to do their homework? We don’t need to try to do any grand scheduling. Sound good?

By John Holbo on 05/28/05 at 09:42 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rather than burrowing through Guillory’s muckish prose for an entire book, we might focus on the ELH essay he wrote a few years earlier, which sufficiently presents the thesis in the Cultural Capital book.

By on 05/28/05 at 02:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Or his excellent article on the Sokal Hoax - published in Critical Inquiry in 2002.  This would provide an interesting perspective on the debate about interdisciplinarity that was percolating here a couple of weeks ago.

By on 05/28/05 at 03:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I second Mark on Guillory’s prose and would much prefer something short.

By on 05/28/05 at 03:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Whereas you might slip and think you were reading John Leonard in the other thing, is that it?

And isn’t this a book that you should have already read?

By Jonathan on 05/28/05 at 03:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Why waste all that time reading a book when no one will ever call you on your superficial bowdlerization its argument?  After reading Wallen’s “Criticism as Displacement,” I wish I hadn’t wasted all those hours on Culture and Imperialism.  I vote we read a representative selection of reviews of Cultural Capital...but I’d approve Mark or Stephen‘s suggestions too.  (I’m also on board with Sean and Mark’s assessment of the faux-German-density of Guillory’s prose.  Leads to much confusion in these parts between Guillory and Lentricchia, both of whom I appreciate, but when anyone repeats “his indefatigable applications of his energies” three times in one essay, I wonder.)

P.S.  Access to JSTOR required.

By A. Cephalous on 05/28/05 at 07:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve been thinking that Guillory’s prose is, yes, what you said, Cephalous.

He’s got a great point in the opening chapter of CC - and the power of the point, to a large extent, derives from its simplicity: theory/practice, antiessent./essentialist contradiction. Perfect - could say it in 5 pages. Don’t need this endless saying and resaying…

Anyway, my two-sense.

By cultrev on 05/29/05 at 01:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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