Sunday, June 26, 2005

Theory's Empire

An interesting post on theory from Butterflies and Wheels via Arts and Letters Daily, and particularly given the content of my previous post. Bauerlein takes the seemingly absurd position that what the study of theory needs is another anthology, just like the one to which he has contributed.

Sure, the article is a shameless plug, and it is found on the frequently disappointing Butterflies and Wheels site, but he still acknowledges the institutional nature of theory study. He seems to suggest that there was some golden age of pure theory which was corrupted when all the theorists got tenure and became department chairs, but to be honest this seems rather more like thinking Mayberry NC was ever like it was on the "Andy Griffith Show." Like a lot of cutting-edge work, theory has always had a strongly smug narcissistic quality about it, and to suggest that in the 90s "the institutional effects of Theory displaced its intellectual nature" ignores that theory has always been strongly institutional -- else it would never have gained the slightest foothold in the Academy. The very nature of universities prevents them from ever studying (or observing) anything that is not institutionally oriented. French theorists gained prominence not because they were saying particularly smart or interesting things (though of course some were), but because academe happened to be institutionally headed by francophiles, in the same way that 19th-century German philologists ruled before two world wars made German politically suspect.

Though I've spent much of this post cutting on the article, I do think it worth reading, though one must keep one's grains of salt close at hand.

1 comment:

  1. You should join the group discussion of Theory's Empire that we'll be hosting on the Valve in the coming weeks, as it seems like it would be of interest to you. (Now that's a shameless plug if I've ever written one. But the offer stands.)

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