Monday, July 18, 2005

DeLong on Theory

Brad DeLong has an interesting post reacting to the talk at the Valve about Theory's Empire. I haven't joined the discussion over at the Valve despite being invited, because I suspected the discussion would not be worthwhile. I've looked at some of the posts there, and don't regret my decision.

I think DeLong gives too much credit to Foucault (I've not read Tribe); for example, his "rational kernel" looks like the "close reading" of the New Critics. Nevertheless, I think DeLong's article is worth a read because in his generousity to Foucault he demonstrates what might be done if one leaves Foucault behind, or as he puts it, using Foucault's ideas as "tools" rather than as "masters."

By the way, be sure to look at that LONG footnote. He includes excerpts from some of the few bits I've seen that are worth your time to read.


  1. You'll notice that my evaluation was stated almost entirely in the negative "haven't joined," "not be worthwhile" and "don't regret." I always lay into my students in their papers for saying what something ISN'T rather than what it IS, but in this case I did so purposefully.

    My complaint is about something the Valve can do little to police: the lame theory-talk rhetoric that obfuscates rather than reveals.

    I guess I am disappointed in theory-talk generally, and the Valve's discussion is an inevitable manifestation of that. I think theory is not just important, but essential -- yet the anti-theory crowd is completely justified in their claims that what passes as theory-talk has served little useful function, and has probably done more harm than good. In other words, theory-talk seems to me to be the academic version of "Chick Tracts" -- betraying the very principles it supposedly serves by offensive bullying.

    So, my complaint isn't at all about the Valve (which I generally like) -- it's about the level of discourse surrounding theory.

    Makes me think I should write up a long post about the theorist Pierre Mourier. I don't have time today, but if you see a post on this site about Mourier, you'd probably be interested in it.

  2. Anonymous11:37 AM

    There are different opinions on this subject.