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« A History of the Great American Novel, Part I: In Which It Has Not Yet Been Written. | Main | Indulgences; or, Today The Personal Trumps All »

Saturday, 16 July 2005


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Timothy Burke

Kiss me, Hardy...

Adam Kotsko

I think this counts as the second time I've been singled out and misunderstood by Brad DeLong! (That is, I'm the first example of how the anti-theory event is too theoretical, but I'm on the "pro-theory" side, roughly.)

Brad DeLong

I guess I'm naive to suppose that one should actually show an example or two of how one uses theory to read a book (or how others misuse theory to misread a book)...


Brad DeLong

Re: "...someone who, like DeLong, dismisses Theory as so much blather..."

I would like to point out that my main point was that I found the work of Michel Foucault to be extraordinarily *useful* to me--as long, that is, as I was able to use his concepts as my tools rather than worshipping them as my masters.


The line between in-house and external criticisms is probably real.

Taking all this stuff deadly seriously is something one feels called to do as a professional academic. But it might not make for great 'blogging'.

Another reason for the widely dispersed structure of our debate is that our source text, Theory's Empire, is so full of wide-ranging arguments on such a large array of thinkers -- you have to be familiar with everyone from Plato to Eve Sedgwick-- that it's difficult (or simply mistaken) to diagnose our problems unidimensionally. In literary studies, neat stories about the thralldom of Foucault in 1982 are only a tiny component of the story. Before that you would have to talk about Northrop Frye's intoxication with Blake, I.A. Richards' worship of T.S. Eliot, or for that matter, the legacy of theological hermeneutics in the field as a whole. French theory didn't wholly transform Anglo-American literary studies, but rather preyed on certain existing patterns of thought (the vulnerability to "influence") and radically inhabited them.

To loosely invoke Hillis Miller ("The Critic as Host"), it's a bit of a question of whether the host (Anglo-American lit crit) or the parasite (french theory) dominates. In answering it, blood may be drawn, but it's quite possible it will be our own blood!

Ray Davis

Wait -- are you really saying that _Theory's Empire_ is the Great American Novel?


I agree with DeLong (no, really!) More precision and examples are needed; this debate has been beaten to death for ten+ years already, and will never escape the meta without more precise interventions. You know, the kind where people actually are forced to read something CLOSELY, and pay attention to the text. Which was, incidentally, not unrelated to Adam's point about reading the whole thing.

So thank you, Brad, for just repeating one of Adam's points. That said, good luck applying the idealistic methodology and pop-faith of economic theory to literary studies.

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