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April 19, 2003

Free Reads -- "Theory" in crisis

Friedrich --

Good news from Emily Eakins in today's New York Times: the literary "theory" biz is in crisis. (You can read it here.) An academic journal invited a couple of dozen lib-arts professorial heavyweights to wonder out loud about the future of theory. Where can it go? What's its point? Has it, in fact, accomplished much of anything?

The surprise is that these advocates and partisans of theory have serious doubts themselves. Stanley Fish is eager to "deny the effectiveness of intellectual work." Henry Louis Gates confesses, "I really didn't see it: the liberation of people of color because of deconstruction or poststructuralism." Too bad no one raised the obvious question: So, given the total ineffectuality of what you've spent decades advocating, have you decided to resign in shame?

Anyone who ever doubted that the whole "critical theory" movement had a strong political basis might take note of the way the panelists at this meeting got sidetracked -- for more than an hour -- into lamenting GW Bush and the war in Iraq. Eakins reports that a student in the audience rose at one point and asked, "So is theory simply just a nice, simple intellectual exercise?"

Well, maybe something more like a complicated, destructive and pointless
intellectual exercise. Lovely, though, to watch the edifice start to crumble, isn't it? Lovely as well to see the Times giving it fair-minded coverage.



posted by Michael at April 19, 2003


True cause for celebration!

Posted by: Yahmdallah on April 21, 2003 10:35 AM

Let's not be too dismissive of what "theory" has accomplished. The odds are everyone at that conference would be currently unemployed without "theory."

Academics in the humanities, in my experience, are pretty much the last people you should look to for genuinely original thought; something about what it takes to go into that field seems to inhibit it. Developments like "theory" in all its variations are a godsend to such unoriginal minds; it allows them to publish without, er, thought. Moreover, the dense thicket of neologisms and jargon that attach themselves to such exercises make it difficult for ordinary people to discern that the process is just that of an intellectual "sausage machine" cranking out today's sausages.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on April 21, 2003 2:17 PM

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