Sunday, June 26, 2005

Theory: Still Dead.

Yet another article about how sick everyone in the humanities is of theory. It's funny. I thought that Foucault and Derrida and the rest were both pretty boring when I read them, and so I stopped. But, apparently, the 70s generation just loved that stuff.

But, where can you go once you've adopted their ideas? Apparently, straight into a rut.

"For, while Theory has become a humdrum intellectual matter within the humanities and a nonexistent or frivolous one without, it has indeed acquired a professional prestige that is as strong as ever. This is the paradox of its success, and failure."

The paradox of the the success and failure of humanities departments in general is that we have achieved a "professional prestige" that is totally suitable for the corporate world, but which makes no sense whatsoever in the intellectual world. Theories are like blue chip stocks- everyone wants them, but nobody can explain just why. They're yuppie prestige items for the sort of people who scoff at yuppie prestige items.

Best quote:

“What are they talking about?” she asked.


“Is there any new theory?”

“Yeah, in a way,” he answered. “It’s called ‘erudition.’”

“What’s that?” she wondered.

“Well, you read and read, and you get your languages, and you go into politics, religion, law, contemporary events, and just about everything else.” (He’s a 16th-century French literature scholar who comes alive in archives.)

She was puzzled. “But what’s the theory?”

“To be honest, there isn’t any theory,” he said.

“That’s impossible.” He shrugged. “Okay, then, give me the names, the people heading it.”

“There aren’t any names. Nobody’s heading it.”

'Nuff said.


fix buffalo said...

Check out David Lehman's work..."Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul deMan" Great book. Here's a review:

Rufus said...

Yeah, the deMan affair was just priceless! Remember too that it happened at the same time that Heidegger's personal papers started coming out and made it very clear that he was a true blue Nazi throughout his life, and not long after Foucault's former lover had started hinting that Foucault had knowingly infected strangers with HIV. Theory-heads get pissed when you bring that stuff up, but the thing is, Heidegger and deMan both had bodies of work that are strikingly consistent with Naziism and Foucault's work can still be used as a theoretical justifaction for sociopathology.

The thing a lot of people don't realize is that there are plenty of academics who can't stand that stuff because it provides a theoretical justification for intellectual laziness and smug cynicism and there are even more academic lefties who hate the postmodern politics because they make it impossible to take an ethical stance on anything. Sometimes, you have to be able to say, "I believe that X is destructive and wrong and, even if that's not a universal law, I have no choice but to behave as if it is."

fix buffalo said...

Academics for the most part and students - to a lesser degree, me thinks and hopes - studying this stuff are blinded by the insights and vagaries that are ususally spun out of utter nonsense and contempt into whole cloth.

80 years ago Korsch and Lukacs reached the same conclusions. L went on to be the darling of stalinist apologists. K was kicked out. Lessons here include the role of criticism...

Unless you are totally sure of your department's attitude regarding these "theorists" careful...

Though, I think the pc tide may be turning...

Rufus said...

Well, I've argued here before that the situation in the universities is not nearly as bad as it's made out to be. Remember that David Horowitz, for all of his good ideas, hasn't worked in an actual university setting in thirty-five years.

I know my department's attitude about theory; it's anything but unified. We have a wide range of opinion on the subject from theory-heads to those of us who have no use for it to conservatives who think it could spell the end of Western Civilization.

I'd say you're right about students. Quite a few of us have little to no use for the stuff. Most of the profs think it's either totally passe, or just plain ridiculous to begin with. I'd say only about 5% of the department has any interest in theory. Understand though that we're a History department, and History as a profession never had much use for theory. Also, Foucault spent a year teaching at UB, and apparently, rubbed a number of professors here the wrong way!

I agree that PC is dead. But, I'm not so sure that we're better off with those students who think that anyone who disagrees with them is a "treacherous fifth columnist", and believe me, we get quite a few of them. I'm not at all convinced that the moonbat-hunters have any greater sense of perspective than the PC Stalinists do.