I'm not sure I share in her pessimism. The old ways are collapsing, and I can't tell you how many young scholars have told me that they have a sense that something new fresh is in the air. True, Theory often acted more as a stake driven at the heart of the discipline rather than thoughtful discussion about the nature of critique ... whether the age of High Theory did more good or ill to literary studies remains to be determined by not-yet-born scholars of the future. The post-Theory era will, I suspect, not be a return to the pre-theory era, but will instead follow a more Hegelian path, being a synthesis. In words, I suspect we are entering an era that is post-Theory but not post-theory.
Soltan quotes Andrew Delbanco as saying,
The even sadder news is that although students continue to come to the
university with the human craving for contact with works of art that somehow
register one’s own longings and yet exceed what one has been able to articulate
by and for oneself, this craving now, more often than not, goes unfulfilled,
because the teachers of these students have lost faith.
I would expand this idea to the culture at large. People want to talk about art; they need it. Scholars often bemoan film adaptations of books (e.g. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) as dumbed-down culture, evidence of a degraded society incapable of grappling with non-visual media. But I'm not so sure. Oh, of course there is a dummy Cliff's Notes element to some of the audiences for these films, but for the others: where else is someone going to find a sustained an accessible critique of a work if not in film?
Too often by writing and speaking in Literary Cant scholars have made their scholarship inaccessible. The problem is not hyper-specialization per se, because we need specialization to express new ideas to other specialists. The problem is that too many scholars are incapable of dealing with subject matter in which they are not specialized. We have drawn the line between the generalist and the specialist too boldly; the ideal scholar is both.
So we shut people out from literature, telling them, in effect, that they are too dumb to get it. People have to find their critique in places like Oprah's Book Club and film adaptations.
Still don't believe me? Let me point out that the most viewed pages on the Unlocked Wordhoard of late have been dealing explicitly with issues of literary critique. The commenters are primarily not English-professor-types -- they are just smart folks out there who want to be involved in extended discussion of literature without being shut out by Literary Cant or condescended to by babytalk.
The hunger for the discipline is out there; I see it every day. When English departments can remember that our job is to feed minds hungry for the language, we'll turn the corner into something fresh and exciting.