7 jul. 2005

There is also the sense in which the real subject of theory is the literature department itself. In other words, "theory" is whatever institutional legitimization the English (or Foreign Language) department needs at any particular time to justify its existence. This explains why theory is often not taught at all to undergraduates, who presumably aren't interested in that kind of "shop talk," but emphasized as the most significant possible thing to graduate students, as part of an indoctrination and professionalization in the field. This part of theory can presumably be ignored by someone interested in literature but not interested in being a professor of literature. A lot of the debate about whether there can be multiple interpretations of a text, about whether we need theory at all, about what the English (or FL) Department needs to be doing, is not theory about the object of study, but theory about the studiers themselves. Almost every theoretical text Stanley Fish ever wrote falls into this category. Excellent works like Cultural Capital by John Guillory, as well. Charles Bernstein's A Poetics and My Way are also part of this debate. That is, Bernstein is interested in the English Department and his own place there, so an essay like "Revenge of the Poet Critic" takes as its subject this particular insertion of the Language Poet into academia.

(This kind of debate, not coincidentally, is what Michael Bérubé is best known for. I know him for this sort of "public" writing, not as a specialist in American literature, which he presumably is as well. He does this political/institutional writing quite well, better than almost anyone else, in fact, but you won't find him writing about Clark Coolidge on his blog. Oversimplifying by a mile: the poets are the ones interested in poetry; the English department people are interested in the future of the English Department; the prose fiction writers are interested in the book industry and the state of literary journalism.)

I'm not saying there are not real issues at stake, just that I wouldn't be interested in these issues if I weren't an academic. Of course, since the university is a hugely influential institution, nobody can totally ignore what's going on there either.

3 comentarios:

Laura Carter dijo...

I think this is very insightful.

Dan Green dijo...

"Oversimplifying by a mile: the poets are the ones interested in poetry; the English department people are interested in the future of the English Department; the prose fiction writers are interested in the book industry and the state of literary journalism.)"

This seems right, even, alas, the part about fiction writers and their obsession with the "book business."

Dan Green dijo...

"Oversimplifying by a mile: the poets are the ones interested in poetry; the English department people are interested in the future of the English Department; the prose fiction writers are interested in the book industry and the state of literary journalism.)"

This seems right, even, alas, the part about fiction writers and their obsession with the "book business."