Welcome to The Valve

Valve Links

The Front Page
Statement of Purpose

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

Advanced Search

RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom

RSS 1.0 | RSS 2.0 | Atom


Powered by Expression Engine
Logo by John Holbo

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.



About Last Night
Academic Splat
Amardeep Singh
Bemsha Swing
Bitch. Ph.D.
Blogging the Renaissance
Butterflies & Wheels
Cahiers de Corey
Category D
Charlotte Street
Cheeky Prof
Chekhov’s Mistress
Chrononautic Log
Cogito, ergo Zoom
Collected Miscellany
Completely Futile
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
Conversational Reading
Critical Mass
Crooked Timber
Culture Cat
Culture Industry
Early Modern Notes
Easily Distracted
fait accompi
Ferule & Fescue
Ghost in the Wire
Giornale Nuovo
God of the Machine
Golden Rule Jones
Grumpy Old Bookman
Ideas of Imperfection
In Favor of Thinking
In Medias Res
Inside Higher Ed
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
John & Belle Have A Blog
John Crowley
Jonathan Goodwin
Kathryn Cramer
Languor Management
Light Reading
Like Anna Karina’s Sweater
Lime Tree
Limited Inc.
Long Pauses
Long Story, Short Pier
Long Sunday
Making Light
Maud Newton
Michael Berube
Motime Like the Present
Narrow Shore
Neil Gaiman
Old Hag
Open University
Pas au-delà
Planned Obsolescence
Quick Study
Rake’s Progress
Reader of depressing books
Reading Room
Reassigned Time
Reeling and Writhing
Return of the Reluctant
Say Something Wonderful
Shaken & Stirred
Silliman’s Blog
Slaves of Academe
Sorrow at Sills Bend
Sounds & Fury
Stochastic Bookmark
Tenured Radical
the Diaries of Franz Kafka
The Elegant Variation
The Home and the World
The Intersection
The Litblog Co-Op
The Literary Saloon
The Literary Thug
The Little Professor
The Midnight Bell
The Mumpsimus
The Pinocchio Theory
The Reading Experience
The Salt-Box
The Weblog
This Public Address
This Space: The Fire’s Blog
Thoughts, Arguments & Rants
Tingle Alley
University Diaries
Unqualified Offerings
What Now?
William Gibson

Monday, August 08, 2005

Hymns in Ad Hominem

Posted by Sean McCann on 08/08/05 at 11:52 AM

New evidence that William Pannapacker (as described here) leapt too soon to his air of mild disappointment.  Alphonse van Worden suggests that complaints against Theory are a variant of anti-semitism.  Mark Kaplan calls it stupid careerism and tainted by “a rightest agenda." Jodi Dean adds that current criticism of Theory just manages to conceal its past racism, misogyny, and homophobia.  Doesn’t matter if you think otherwise because “no matter what one intends, one’s position can be allied and is generally allied in ways beyond one’s choosing": if you’re a critic of Theory you’re perforce in the current of, or in the context of, or, what the heck, just conservative and anti-intellectual.


Update.  New comments are disabled, but the old have not been deleted and can be found by clicking on the permanent link jump.


Mark Kaplan calls it stupid careerism and tainted by “a rightest agenda."

I’m not sure what the ‘it’ refers to in this sentence, but if it refers to ‘complaints against theory’ then I said neither of the things you impute to me. And can you say why ‘a rightest agenda’is in quotes??

I think if you consult the comments under my post http://charlotte-street.blogspot.com/2005/08/t1-and-t2.html, you’ll find a reasonably courteous and intelligent exchange

By Mark Kaplan on 08/08/05 at 01:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, in your “Breaking News” post you first lay out a long list of ways in which complaints against Theory appear to be patently self-contradictory, suggesting that people who hold these implicitly inconsistent diagnoses must be either dimwitted or driven by an ulterior motive.  (E.g.: “Schools breed and multiply within it, and yet it remains One. Its poker-faced PC solemnity is forbidding, yet it is also a frivolous homo ludens, taking nothing seriously, forever playing and punning and putting the world in brackets,” etc., etc.)

You follow that long paragraph with two sentences: “The Theory monster must be caught. Reward: A prestigious academic career.”

The gist of those two sets of remarks seems quite plain: that people who criticize Theory are intellectually limited (unable to see the contradictions you do) and careerist.  (This is, btw, an unlikely charge.  The rewards for attacking Theory in the literary humanities, in the U.S. at least, at this point do not seem anywhere close to the rewards for championing it.)

“Rightest agenda” is in quotes because those are the words of Robert that you quote and endorse in the final paragraph of your “Cover Charge” post, where you say: “in order for the rhetoric of the image [on TE’s cover] to be intelligible, a great deal of (ideological) work has to have been done beforehand. This ‘work’ is the ‘framing’ of which Robert spoke. Personally, I would think it wise to analyse this framing before simply settling on ‘Theory’ as your object of analysis.”

I think that says rather clearly that: (1) TE is framed by a rightest agenda (“of which Robert spoke”); (2) that analyzing Theory is less important than analyzing this agenda; and (3) by implication that people who fail to first undertake such an ideological analysis have fallen prey to said agenda.

By on 08/08/05 at 02:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, a “rightist agenda” is cited by a Robert who you quote from comments in order to agree with him in the second link that Sean supplies. (By the way, the URL that you supplied doesn’t seem to work; maybe you can repost it.) The rest of that blog post, “Cover Charge”, is an example of something that both Michael Berube and Matt have tried in various ways, the analysis of some feature of _Theory’s Empire_ as exemplar of what’s wrong with criticisms of Theory.  Going from the introduction to the cover photo is a step further, however.  (Let’s credit Berube with first use of this one as well, however; I believe that he was the first to write something about how evidently pictures of naked emperors were in short supply). 

I am impressed by this technique.  It shows that you really don’t need to disagree with criticisms of Theory by arguing against them; criticisms of Theory are symbolized by _Theory’s Empire_; _Theory’s Empire_ is summarized by its introduction, or, even better, the picture on the cover.  Clearly, because someone decided to show Theory as a house of cards on the cover of an anthology, “I would think it wise to analyse this framing before simply settling on ‘Theory’ as your object of analysis” is justified, and no repeated, explicit, and by this time somewhat degrading denials of anti-intellectualism will make it otherwise.  Holbo is, sadly, defined by Horowitz.

By on 08/08/05 at 02:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My apologies, though, Mark for missing the comment thread to your T1 and T2 post.  I should have read it earlier and just scrolled through now.  Agreed, your part in it (by contrast to that of some of your commenters) is perfectly courteous.

By on 08/08/05 at 02:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I was also sort of impressed by this statement in comments by Jodi:

“John--I didn’t presume you at the Valve were going to ignore institutional features. I wasn’t thinking about you at the Valve. As I’ve been saying over and over again, my post was aimed at the context of current discussion of the book and the way that this context produces the event of the book. This context is the institutional, economic, political setting of academic work and production today. This setting enables multiple lines of discontent to displace their discontent onto a single cause which is referred to as theory.

Providing a contextual analysis of an event is not the same thing as dismissing it. It’s approaching the terrain in a different manner/fashion.”

So, no need to read any actual critiques.  After all, the context is immediately familiar to all of us, right?  And since you can evidently derive from such simple contextual statements as “the academic job market is miserable” and “trashing and overcoming those who have come before is a time honored intellectual tradition” the conclusion “this anti-theory mentality reiterates the dominate culture”, well, that’s really all you need to know.  And you’re not being dismissive, you’re just approaching the same terrain in a different manner—just with far fewer words.

By on 08/08/05 at 03:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Surely you can appreciate the comic element of the Breaking News post, intended in part as light relief from the more serious postings. You’ve misconstrued the meaning of the final remark (which might be my fault) – it was suggesting that grappling with this monster (ie doing theory) was the key to advancement.

I expressed agreement with Robert insofar as the Theory debate has often been framed in a certain way, and it’s as well to be aware of this. Robert’s words shouldn’t simply have been attributed to me. I naturally wasn’t suggesting that any criticism of Theory was complicit with a ‘rightist agenda’, and this should be clear from my exchange with Scott and John Holbo.

The cover of Theory’s Empire is worthy of analysis as symptomatic of a certain familiar attitude/ rhetoric. This single image, and the attendant attitude, is not of course representative of the whole range of anti-Theory positions - that would be absurd.

By Mark Kaplan on 08/08/05 at 03:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark, I’m delighted to know that that’s what you meant and will be glad to retract the charge.  What you say now about the Theory monster, though, is, I think, exactly the opposite of what the most likely reading of your post would suggest.

I’m glad too that you don’t believe that the whole range of anti-Theory positions is tainted by a rightest agenda (though I also don’t think it’s particularly unfair to say that you seconded Robert’s claim).  I imagine that this will not seem appealing to you, but it’s my belief that the whole debate would be vastly improved by not referring to political agendas of any kind.  As I’m sure you’ve sensed, some of us among the anti-Theory crowd are deliberately refraining from making colorable, but exaggeraged and unhelpful allegations (a la Chomsky) about the political implications of the ideas we’re criticizing and are also used to seeing our views reflexively cast as conservative or worse (as is done by a good number of your commenters).  This is provoking. 

You know, sometimes a book cover is just a book cover and owes a lot more to marketing and production departments than to ideological agendas.

By on 08/08/05 at 03:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, I am glad you were at least sort of impressed. I take this to mean that you appreciate the way that the context in which a book appears condition how it might be received and understood. An analogy might be helpful here: there is clearly a difference between the enunciated content of a sentence and its position of enunciation, the intentions or slippages or valences a speaker might impart in the act of saying. At any rate, I’m glad that you recognize that to appreciate the place of context is not dismissive.

By Jodi on 08/08/05 at 04:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You utter illiterate. I suggest that Wagner’s antisemitism was a variant of complaints against that which is now going under the name Theory here.


By on 08/08/05 at 04:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I do think that it’s an impressive rhetorical gesture, yes.  And yes, I wouldn’t really call it dismissive, just as a direct accusation of anti-intellectualism isn’t dismissive.

By on 08/08/05 at 04:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, and, what we’ve left out of this little exchange is the way that in some contexts the accusation of intellectualism can also be dismissive! Oh those pointy heady intellectual with their pie in the sky ideas sheltered behind their ivy covered walls as they nit-pick and qualify the night away!

By Jodi on 08/08/05 at 04:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jodi, very good example of that rhetorical technique again.  Why, in the way in which “some contexts” are described, you might never know that John Holbo and Sean McCann are professors who I would assume have never accused anyone of being pointy headed intellectuals—which would be an odd accusation, as they themselves are intellectuals.  No, instead, whenever they decide to take a fully intellectual position in opposition to Theory, they are told that they have to be careful of their context, that they should look out because somewhere in America, some right-winger is penning yet another screed in opposition to intellectualism.

Well, they have.  They have penned disclaimers, apologia, plaintive responses that they aren’t doing any of these things and aren’t supporting this “context” of American anti-intellectualism.  But you don’t read them.  That is not the stance of an intellectual, nit-picking and qualifying the night away, I have to tell you.

By on 08/08/05 at 04:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

it’s rather futile to even bother denouncing the Marquessa-De Sade-at-sunday-school ideas of the great Alfonza and the associated chefs of long sunday.  It seems that you either grant that some sorts of inductive claims, arguments, bare minimum “logic” (eeek the L word) still have value and are necessary, or you fly off, munchkin-like, with Madame Alfonza and her posse into that odorous desade-marxist void, orchestrated by verdi and maybe jelly roll morton-

(but methinks Mlle Alflonza is more vichy than she initially appears)

By al caponay on 08/08/05 at 05:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, you are a quick study, indeed! Why, from your comment one would never guess that I, at least, have never advised John Holbo, Sean McCann, or anyone for that matter to be careful of their contexts or for accusing others of being pointy-heady intellectuals!

Oh what a silly, silly exchange. Fun, but silly. Much more interesting is Scott Eric Kaufman’s line of engagement: is there a referent for “theory” and if so, what is it; and, what are the political valences around this term and how do they inflect discussion and inquiry? (He raises these questions in a remark on icite to ‘thinking without a head.’)

By Jodi on 08/08/05 at 05:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

oh joedee why not spend an afternoon with some hume and realize what a load of rancid, sentimental garbage you really izz

By jackanapes on 08/08/05 at 05:39 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Why, I wasn’t accusing *you* of not reading material that you opine about, Jodi, or of drfawing predetermined conclusions from social generalities.

I was just writing about your context.

By on 08/08/05 at 05:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

FYI, the comments of which Jodi spoke:

Since this conversation’s bouncing all over the place now, I decided to repost this comment from Charlotte Street over here, as I think I was answering your reply as much as Matt and Mark’s. Also, for the record, my contribution to the Theory’s Empire event was, in essence, an apotheosis of a period in Critical Inquiry’s history in which debates still ruled the day (as opposed to the agree-to-disagree sentiment so wide-spread today). That strikes me as an anti-anti-Theory position. Anyhow, I’ll reply in more detail later, for, the repost:

The Critical Theory Insistute and Critical Theory Emphasis aren’t Frankfurt at all. If you look at the CTI homepage (last updated 2002, which is why Derrida’s still listed), you’ll see that the roster is decidedly of the, um, Theory persuasion. A quick glance at the annual Wellek Lectures the CTI sponsors will back that up: Bhabha, Spivak, Baudrillard, Butler, Balibar, Iser, Hartman, Jameson, Cixous, Said, Lyotard, Derrida, &c. So I would say that these institutions make material what it is John wants to call Theory. To be honest, I’m not sure where I fall in this argument: I don’t think the work that falls under the aegis of Theory constitutes a single body of (somewhat) intellectually consistent thought the way, say, Marxism once did. So in that sense, there’s no programmatic thing called Theory to attack. At the same time, there is a thing called Theory--as witnessed by the fact that people claim to “do Theory,” a locution I hear almost daily--and people seem to know what they mean when they say it. This may be a case of where both sides would be better served by some more specificity, but I do want to point out that the anti-Theory crowd aren’t the only people who think that Theory is some thing. I think I’m with Matt on this one: before this conversation can continue, we need to figure out what Theory is, i.e. what set of discursive practices it represents (if it does at all).

What this tells me is that while it’s seemingly uncontroversial for some people to refer to Theory as a coherent body of knowledge, as something they “do,” whereas for others it’s a polemically charged, politically motivated move to categorize a disparate body of work under the same opprobrious title. Problem is, I also think both these things are true: people do consider themselves “Theorists” in a way that they believe is meaningful, and “Theory” is in fact a collection of what, when considered as a whole, are philosophically incompatible theories. (For example, in a telling offhand remark during an otherwise incomprehensible lecture, Bhabha compared Theory to scrambled eggs: you can’t tell where anything’s come from but you know it’s good for you.) Also, I think we should all recognize this disconnect and avoid dancing around it.

Also, my response to Jodi’s question as to why I brought this up:

I have no problem with the CTI--in fact, were I not currently dissertating, I’d probably take the last mini-seminar required for the full emphasis--I only pointed it out to counter your claim that Theorists don’t self-identify with the monstrous label that is Theory. Many do; not only do many do, but they do so in a specific institutional context that belies the claim made by Robert (and possibly seconded by Mark) that criticisms of Theory necessarily entail a conservative political agenda. In other words--and reading over your comment at the Valve (where I may repost a variation of these comments) I now feel I can safely spring this argument without offense--I think that John’s right to say that there is a collection of unrelated thought that goes by the name of Theory, and that it may go by that name to avoid the sort of honest scrutiny John and I wish to apply to it so that it might not have to deal with the sort of dishonest scrutiny brought by the Quine-o-phile who comments as The Troll of Sorrow. In other words, it’s convenient and entirely reasonable (given the sorrowful trolls) to have defensively taken a position in which group identity can be asserted (in light of praise) and denied (in light of criticism). My job, then, is to convince you that I’m no sorrowful troll, and that my criticisms are honest...and the burden of proof is, in this case, on me.

I could say that, as an admittedly weak New Historicist, I owe debts to Foucault, and that those debts are part and parcel of my dismissal of psychoanalytic subjectivity and works which presuppose the existence of subjects as the product of psychoanalytic processes...but those are the assumptions behind my work, not my work itself. This, of course, is my way of saying that one of the key differences between literary studies and Theory proper is that our commitments are less theoretical than a set of enabling constraints (and are often chosen because of other commitments we already have). These are cursory comments, however, and I’ll need to refine them as the day progresses; but let me state that so far I’ve found this exchange--here, there, over there, and at those other places as well--on the subject far more enlightening than any I’ve had in quite some time, and I hope that it continues to be so, for all parties. (In other words, if I unintentionally spout something truly offensive, I hope you’ll take the time to correct instead of dismiss me.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/08/05 at 06:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The problem remains the reifying of Theory, which entails the reifying of anti-Theory, which entails the reifying of Theory, ad vomit. 

Insofar as there is nothing inherently “progressive” or left-wing about much that falls under the Theory umbrella, so too is there nothing inherently conservative or right-wing about criticizing all that falls under the Theory umbrella as a whole. 

For the 15,304th time, this is why everyone in this debate needs to be exact and accurate about what they are articulating, what they are criticizing, and why (or from what other position) they are articulating or criticizing any given position.

That each side in this ridiculous debate reserves the right to speak tout court about Theory and/or its Other is infuriating.  Mark Kaplan’s “breaking news” post does a good job of showing the contradictions that occur when a variety of theories are simultaneously criticized as Theory.  Sean makes a great case for the stupidity that arises from attempts to lump the variety of critiques of Theory into one reactionary bundle based on the homology of the discourses themselves. 

Only an anti-intellectual would think the academic world would be a shiny, happy place if all talk of Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Bakhtin, Stuart Hall, Laclau and Mouffe, Freud, Lacan, Said, and so on ended.  Only an anti-intellectual would imagine that criticizing any of these figures automatically constitutes political (neo-)conservatism. 

Truly intellectual rules of engagement here would entail: (a) specifying the *exact* object of your critique; (b) specifying the *exact* reasons you think that object is open to critique; and (c) specifying with what you would propose to replace that object.  That’s what I call “constructive criticism” in my rhetoric and composition courses, and to expect less from a bunch of grad students and professors would be silly.  [Now, I know many will object to point c, but I think that point is of the utmost importance: for example, if you can’t propose a better model of how signs work, one can only assume your critique of early Barthes is reformatory, and so we should all very well go on using and reforming Barthes rather than abandoning him.  Likewise, if you want to defend Derrida, you’d do well to respond to others’ objections – which is to say, if you criticize the critique, you should be exact about it.]

By on 08/08/05 at 06:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Only an anti-intellectual would think the academic world would be a shiny, happy place if all talk of Barthes, Derrida, Foucault, Bakhtin, Stuart Hall, Laclau and Mouffe, Freud, Lacan, Said, and so on ended

That’s another manipulation and attempt to steer the discussion into a lit.crit.-oriented direction. Where is it written that Derrida (or Lacan, Sartre, Foucault, any parisian aesthete-creep you care to name) somehow triumphed over, say, Quine ? (since you mentioned him). One reason a Quine (and behaviorism and analytical phil. as a whole) is completely absent from the Valve and other left-to-moderate lit. and phil. blogs is that the Quinean analysis would hold all those texts--literary, “theoretical”, political--to the same criteria and standards that say the math or computer science departments are held to. The modern aesthete may yawp “that sort of positivist criteria is so boring and conservative and not relevant to my discipline,” but that is precisely it: why is it not relevant, why are there no standards pertaining to aesthetic confirmation or verification, why is say Quine’s Two Dogmas of Empiricism and its emphasis on truth as synthetic a posteriori not taken seriously by lit. twits or “continentalists”? (of course the cynic has answer: for to do so would put their asses out in the street). 

So Doktor Blisster’s comment could be tweaked and applied to continentalists: only an anti-intellectual would be pleased to have the analyticals, as well the scientists removed from the academy (and of course if we were doing some real philosophy ala CS Pierce and actually measuring a theory’s power by what sort of tangible effects it causes/results in/entails, Postmod. language and concepts are far behind the pragmatic systems of men such as Frege and Witt. who contributed at least in part to the development of that mysterious entity called your Operating System)

By mysterio on 08/08/05 at 06:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Um, mysterio, do you see what the next Valve book-event is over there?  Or is that just not analytic enough for you?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 08/08/05 at 06:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m glad to see that Sean has a sense of humor, almost. 

Seriously, what an exceedingly odd, ungenerous post.  Scott and I (and Mark and John and Jodi) have been having a patient, respectful, and productive conversation, trying hard to bridge some pretty significant gaps, and then you go and do this.

Luther, you write:

The problem remains the reifying of Theory, which entails the reifying of anti-Theory, which entails the reifying of Theory, ad vomit.

Which sounds to me a lot like Terry Eagleton’s critique of “Postmodernism,” which, as I’ve said before, I think is rather revealing of the convenient manner in which “Theory” is being deployed by some.


By Matt on 08/08/05 at 06:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The two-minute gap between Scott’s and my posts above should alert ya’ll to the fact that I wrote mine before reading his. 

That said, I still stand by the need not to reify Theory.  Sure, “theory” has an institutional status, in part because “theorists” are often working outside the boundaries of their proper disciplines, creating the need to band together under the name “Theory”—which might as well also be “cultural studies.”

But “doing Theory” and attacking “Theory” are two very different things.  “Doing Theory” is much like saying “I work on analytical philosphy” or “I work on modernist poetics.” It means: (a) that person was hired to teach this thing sutured together into “Theory; and (b) that person might produce something that could be so sutured together.  But to “attack Theory” is as ridiculous as attacking, say, idealism.  Or attacking empiricism.  Or attacking modernism.  These are all broad schools of thought, held together as much by “family resemblance” as by agreement on key ideas.  Said and Lacan are about as different as can be.  To “do Theory,” one would need to have some familiarity with both.  Not because they have any inherent similarity, but because postcolonial studies is grouped together with poststructural studies and Said is the former and Lacan is, sort of, the latter.  But to “attack Theory” would mean to find some way of attacking some essential X that both Said and Lacan would both share. 

Unless, of course, one is only attacking the *institution* of Theory.  Which is different.  One might similarly attack the instutition of “modernism” today—meaning, “modernist studies.” Which is to say, the CTI’s idea of “Theory” is as much about where these people work and publish as it is about the actual ideas they have.  Which is to say, “Theory” is a historical reaction-formation that, for no logical or substantive reason, groups a bunch of things together that really need not be grouped together any longer.  In Stuart Hall’s Gramscian terms, we could say that “Theory” is a hegemonic discourse in certain academic disciplines, articulated together out of a bunch of disparate bits with no necessary or essential connection beyond—perhaps—a set of mutual institutional opponents at one time (i.e., Derrida attacked Levi-Strauss and Foucault in terms of actual ideas—but deconstruction, structuralism, and Foucauldian historicism were all used in the literature departments of the US as ways of displacing New Criticism and its own hegemony, and so continue to be aligned today for that very contingent reason).

By on 08/08/05 at 06:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther: “The problem remains the reifying of Theory, which entails the reifying of anti-Theory, which entails the reifying of Theory, ad vomit. [...] For the 15,304th time, this is why everyone in this debate needs to be exact and accurate about what they are articulating, what they are criticizing, and why (or from what other position) they are articulating or criticizing any given position. [...] That each side in this ridiculous debate reserves the right to speak tout court about Theory and/or its Other is infuriating.  Mark Kaplan’s “breaking news” post does a good job of showing the contradictions that occur when a variety of theories are simultaneously criticized as Theory.”

I mostly agree with that, except perhaps the last sentence.  (I write “mostly” because I think that there is a sense in which Holbo’s claim that Theory is a kind of counter-Enlightenment Romantic movement is arguably true, or at least can not be dismissed without counterargument as a reification.)

The problem with Kaplan’s “Breaking News” blog post is that there is no real contradiction behind its obvious ones.  For example, “It is irrational, even as – and just because - it introduces into Literature the cold acids of conceptual thought and interpretation; it hates literature and is blind to literariness even as it adopts a grotesque parody of literary style.” Yes, some people will criticize Theory for irrationalism, some for excess of conceptual thought, but these aren’t the same people, and it is a more than usually severe error of reification to imagine that they are.  (See Matt’s contention that a “Theory’s Empire crowd” exists, as if an anthology makes a crowd.) And I don’t think that it is a corresponding error of reification to say that what these disparate people are attacking must therefore not be part of the same general movement.  After all, the different attacks may occur over the same texts.  I would say that it does point out that if there are two apparently mutually contradictary attacks on the same text, at least one of them must be wrong, but that is not at all a Theoretic position.

By on 08/08/05 at 07:04 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mysterio, I never mentioned Quine.  I’ve never read Quine.  The only Quine I know is the guitarist for Dick Hell and Voidoids and for late 70s Lou Reed. 

I always thought the final word—literally—on the subject of positivism and the arts was Wittgenstein’s:

“What we cannot speak of we must pass over in silence.”

If we cannot speak of the arts in the way Witt would have us speak, then either: (a) we should stop speaking of the arts; or (b) speak of them in a different—i.e., non-positivist—way.  Some commentaries admit that this final sentence of the *Tractatus* doesn’t negate discourse on the arts but rather protects ethics, aesthetics, and religion from attack by positivists. 

But your comment just proves the types of boring generalizations floating around here.  As a graduate student for the past 7 years, I was assigned a grand total of one brief essay by Derrida, one brief piece by Lacan, and nothing ever by Foucault, Butler, or Bhabha.  My own work draws from none of these.  I prefer Jameson and Bakhtin among lit theorists.  And for philosophers, I go to William James, John Dewey, and Hannah Arendt.  And Benjamin is always thought-provoking.  My own ignornace of analytical philosophy is not much deeper than my ignorance of continental philosophy.  I mainly read novels and poems.  And listen to *Robert* Quine play the guitar. 

[And mysterio, mocking someone’s name—even my fake name—is simply immature.  If that’s what an education in Quine gets you, count me out.]

By on 08/08/05 at 07:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The political or historical “theory” should be clearly distinguished from the aesthetics. This is what is so bothersome about Miss Alfonza DW’s writing, however marvelously sumptuous and polylingual her prose may be. She begins with these quite detailed economic analyses of particular markets, tho with not much support, and then begins into Don Giovanni or Teevee ads or Wagner or whatever. I think this is a big problem with “theory”: it is trying to offer this macro-view of economics, ethics, history, literature, art, etc.  (And however unsexy or non-hip “ethics” may be among lit types, there are many ethics issues being raised here). No one in the sciences would dare do that. Lit critics are far too optimistic.

{The literary Wittgenstein: looks interesting, but maybe make completing the recent book, “Witt.s Poker” a prerequisite (Herr W. does not come off so well)}.

By mysterio on 08/08/05 at 07:18 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Re: the linkage between views on theoretical matters, and underlying politics, I like this quote from Marxist international law scholar Martti Koskenniemi:

But the matter becomes much more complex when one tries to identify some views as ‘intrinsically racist’, whatever it is they teach because, we think, racist policies are necessary outcomes of such doctrines. This approach has an altogether excessive faith in the social determinacy of political or legal doctrines; that is, in the tendency of particular doctrines to bring out particular outcomes, whatever the circumstances. To take an example, it is certainly possible to buttress racist policies by, for example, Darwinist and creationist arguments alike. Perhaps some communities are thought inferior because this has been decreed by the ‘laws of evolution’ or by the ‘laws of God’. But surely the fact that some people may make such arguments does not compel us to view Darwinism and creationism as inherently ‘racist’

By Henry on 08/08/05 at 07:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Doktor Blissedid:

es toot mutha-f-n mere lied. perhaps google Quine’s Two Dogmas and check ‘er out. in some sense its deconstructionist (anti-platonic), but of a more precise and really troubling kind.

By hisstereo on 08/08/05 at 07:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mysterio is the Troll of Sorrow, a gutterpunk obsessed with Quine who has long infested Kotsko and Long Sunday. Alcaponay and Jackanapes likewise. He routinely switches between Quine and vaguely frightening dementia.

Deletion is the most effective argument.

By John Emerson on 08/08/05 at 07:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich --

I’d argue that the binary “Enlightment/Romanticism” is a false one to begin with.  As Marshall Brown writes in “Romanticism and Enlightenment.” A quotation:

“Voltaire’s ideal of tolerance continues in the writings of Schlegel, of Shelley, and of French Revolutionary thinkers . . . Popean satire is not only reborn in Byron, but also strongly colors Blake’s prophecies . . . Neoclassicism, which was a formative element in the Enlightenment, remained a powerful if variable current in Goethe.”

Romantic historicism (say, Walter Scott) emerges clearly out of Hume’s and Ferguson’s and the Scottish Enlightenment’s emphasis on stadial history.  Wordsworth’s poetics are tied up in Enlightenment empiricism (Coleridge and Kant are bosom buddies—see Mary Warnock). 

Romanticism is as much the *fulfillment* of the Enlightenment as it is the realization that something darker lurked within the energies unleashed by the Enlightenment.  Of all philosophers in the English tradition, I don’t it’s a coincidence that Derrida has a lot in common with Hume (Hume on personal identity = Derrida on presence and self), and insofar as Hume forced Kant and Hegel to respond to his skepticism, Derrida is clearly in the Enlightenment tradition.  And insofar as Derrida goes after the transcendental “answers” both Kant and Hegel believed they found to Hume’s problems, we could further align Hume and Derrida.

So I guess I’d demand really rigorous definitions of “Enlightenment” and “romanticism” before going along with Holbo.  The critique of instrumental rationality from Heidegger to Adorno to, say, the language poets is as much a product of the Enlightenment emphasis on freedom and equality and human dignity as it is a function of some romantic appeal to a nature prior to culture (which Derrida, I thought, deconstructs anyway!).  What’s mistaken for “anti-Enlightenment” thought in Theory is more often a fear of the over-extending of technological instrumentalism.  No one wants to be a tool, after all.

By on 08/08/05 at 07:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

you the gutterpunk emo-son, and some quasi-buddhist sentimentalist seminarian failure, and I suspect i have more cash than you ,as well as a nicer car, more grad units and publishing creds than you, little man who lives in a basement. adn I went to a real college, not billybob bible school. and since you seem into cavaliermanship step in the street bitchass, hear?

By emo-son on 08/08/05 at 07:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I demand a rigorous definition of “technological instrumentalism.”

By on 08/08/05 at 07:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I think the 3 rules or specifications that Luther introduces are helpful and appropriate. And, while he and Scott disagree, it seems, as to whether Theory has a referent, they both appeal to practices--institutional, methodological, other?-- as ways of clarifying what is being criticized (and/or defended).

By Jodi on 08/08/05 at 07:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks for the response, Luther.  Maybe John Holbo will answer.  (If he has already, please feel free to point out where that is.)

By on 08/08/05 at 07:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Either syntax, including words and statements, denotes things, events, states of affairs--the variables can be bound--or it does not.  If you agree variables--including letters, numbers, and nouns--can be bound, and the meanings of those variables agreed upon, then those variables operate in various axiomatic systems.  C or java or ACSI are not some arbitrary game, nor is predication or calculus (or chess). And the operational language functions, even with a few paradoxes or glitches here and there. Taking programming or chess as language models is not prima facie wrong.

Aesthetics/connotation as well as “speech acts” and poesy are really different and secondary issues.

delete me

By butthisattva on 08/08/05 at 07:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment


Knowledge of your real identity is circulating ever more rapidly.  I frankly don’t trust everyone who knows to be as reserved and mature about it as Jodi and I have been! 

Do you want me to start following you around everywhere?  Do you want me to watch for your distinctive Quine fundamentalism and start telling everyone that your name is J--- G------, and where you live, and what organizations you’re a part of—oh, and did you want me to copy over the homophobic and anti-Semitic comments you’ve left and e-mails you’ve sent me?  Because we can do that.  I have that kind of time, at least for now.  You’re pretty easy to track down—the same pathetic baiting “arguments,” the same stupid spelling patterns, the same, same, same. 

Or maybe you’d like me to start harrassing all your friends, just like you’ve done with me?  Oh, wait—you don’t have any.  Just a tattered copy of Quine and a couple “colonist” costumes.

By Adam Kotsko on 08/08/05 at 08:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Add a comment: