The recent debate on the Theory's Empire anthology, organized by the Valve, demonstrates how blogospheric argument can work. Theory's Empire is an ambitious volume, which seeks to provide a dissident's version of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism and to argue against the perceived pre-eminence of "theory" in literary criticism. The book is now beginning to attract attention from the mainstream media and will probably be the subject of symposia and debates over the next couple of years. A semi-organized symposium on the Valve, the blog of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, allowed a wide-ranging and active debate on the book within several weeks of its publication. The debate included responses from authors of pieces in Theory's Empire, as well as from prominent academics like John McGowan (an editor of the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism) and Michael Bérubé, both of whom have successful blogs. But it also included, on an equal footing, responses from nonspecialists, like the Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong, and from nonacademic bloggers with an interest in the topic, like Kevin Drum of The Washington Monthly. The result: an unusually high level of intelligent discussion around a topic more usually associated with stale pro- and anti-theory polemics. As McGowan describes it, "This is not yet another round in the culture and theory wars. ... Is it possible that academics interested in such questions have won their way through to a place where they can be discussed and examined calmly? As someone whose most usual stance has been a plague on both your houses, I am hopeful."
Yes, I realize Farrell and Holbo both post on Crooked Timber; and yes, I realize that Farrell's commented here recently as well; so yes, I realize that we're all patting each other on the back in some respects, and that there's something uncouth about it all, but positive play is positive play. If I hadn't written this entry, people would've read that article thinking the praise unvarnished and entirely deserved ... which it is, despite recent evidence to the contrary. (In the aforelinked conversation, everyone reserves the right to talk past everyone else and demands the right to be offended when anyone talks past them. In other words: not with a ten foot pole.)