3 jun. 2011

Bullshit fields (7)

Literary Theory.

I've taught classes in this field, so this is more a criticism of "us" than of "you." What makes theory bullshit is its eclecticism, its willingness to take any and all theorists as experts, even if some of these theorists are based in other bullshit fields. The theorist looks to philosophy and to snippets of other fields, but doesn't care whether the arguments are good ones or not, or whether the philosopher quoted on one page contradicts the one quoted on the next. A theorist is an English professor who thinks s/he knows philosophy but couldn't explain Kant's synthetic a priori to you, or some other basic concept. A dilettante.

7 comentarios:

Professor Zero dijo...

What do you think of philology? Or let's see, randomly, from the olden days ... Roman Jakobson? ... Helmut Hatzfeld? Leo Spitzer? Erich Auerbach? Amado Alonso? Moving closer to now, do you think Bourdieu is B.S.? How do you like Roberto Schwarz ... Renato Ortiz ... I could name a few more but there's a start, although looking at the list I realize none is an English prof.

Andrew Shields dijo...

I was discussing two of the best works of "literary theory" I know the other day, and neither is going to be recognizable as such to many: two pieces by Borges: "Kafka and His Precursors" and "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote." The former makes clear that Kafka created a word ("Kafkaesque", a subset of which is the "Borgesian"), while the latter contains two of the most intriguing literary-critical concepts anyone has ever come up with: deliberate anachronism and erroneous attribution.

My doctorate is in "Comparative Literature and Literary Theory," and my dissertation was a bit of both: comparing Doris Lessing, Christa Wolf, and Marguerite Duras using Foucault's discussions of "surveillance" to consider how writers "observe" the world. I could probably have done the same work without the Foucault.

Andrew Shields dijo...

This also reminds me of what the Comp Lit people at Stanford said about the Modern Thought and Lit people: they were the ones who didn't speak foreign languages well enough to read the original works.

Professor Zero dijo...

True, dat (as we say here in LA), about Mod Thought and Lit.

An idea did come to me while walking this evening. I always thought my feeling I was in a B.S. field was due to my loss of interest in it. Perhaps it is the other way around.

Jonathan dijo...

i remember that exact thing being said. I didn't really like the Modern thought and Lit people very much (except for Tom Lutz and Maria Damon) because they were snobby, doctrinaire Marxists. But they had more solidarity among themselves than we did in Comp Lit. It was a much more cohesive program.

Professor Zero dijo...

But so then who, if any in lit crit / theory do you not consider BS? Was it ever not BS or are there some wings of it which are not?

Jonathan dijo...

That would take a while to explain, I think. I'll try to write a poet about that next week.