Alternative? Alternative?

A little more on the Chronicle’s newsflash that Theory is hardly at all very much influential or mandatory or orthodox any more.

Meanwhile, at the University of California at Berkeley, Ian Duncan, a professor of English and the department’s chairman, reports via e-mail that “postcolonial, national/transnational, race and comparative ethnicities studies are flourishing” while New Historicism “does not exert the hegemony it did 20 years ago, although I think it’s fair to say it’s been digested by many of us and maintains a strong presence.”

And yet a lot of wacko people go on saying that Theorists seem to be interested in everything but literature – it’s staggering, isn’t it? Why would anyone think that? When postcolonial, national/transnational, race and comparative ethnicities studies are flourishing just as they should and all is right with the world?

“We believe in a broad intellectual training,” says Toril Moi, a professor in the literature program and the Romance-studies department at Duke University. “So that means students should know some theory, right?” In practical terms, she observes, theory has become “part of a cultural-social-historical conversation.”

Well of course it has. It’s quite impossible to carry on any kind of cultural-social-historical tragical-comical-pastoral now stop that right now conversation without ‘knowing some theory’ – by which is meant of course knowing the right some theory, as opposed to the wrong some. Some Foucault and Derrida and Butler not some Abrams and Rawls and Nussbaum. Which just goes to show how distant Theory is from conformity and groupthink and orthodoxy – how endlessly unpredictable it is. It’s pure coincidence that all the emails in this article mention the same few names over and over again and ignore all the others. There’s ‘broad intellectual training’ for you!

Mr. Keith, of Binghamton, cautions that “trying to map out alternative ways of knowing is going to be inherently difficult and demanding.” Complex concepts sometimes require complex terminology, and hurling abuse at theory for its “excessive difficulty has been used too often as an overly quick strategy of dismissing and not engaging.”

There there. There there. We know. It’s so unfair. You guys are so deep, and Deeply Informed, and you’re sooo smart, you know how to do such difficult and demanding things, because you’re so smart, and can use complex terminology – and then people just hurl abuse at you. It’s totally unfair. Obviously you can’t map out alternative ways of knowing by endlessly recycling the same ten writers over and over and over again, without using a lot of complex terminology. Can you?! Of course not. This is hard stuff. This is big, important, difficult, complex, grown-up thinking. Not like that simple easy childish shit that people like philosophers and physicists do, but really complex and difficult – and alternative. Therefore needs complex terminology. Much more than boring old positivists like Hume or Bacon or people like that did.

In his essay “Theory Ends,” Mr. Leitch offers up one final definition of theory: “a historically new, postmodern mode of discourse that breaches longstanding borders, fusing literary criticism, philosophy, history, sociology, psychoanalysis, and politics.” The result, he says, is a “cross-disciplinary pastiche” that falls under the increasingly wide banner of cultural studies.

Yeah. Which is great, because it’s six for the price of one. It’s like one of those all-you-can-eat places, or like a garage sale. Where before Theory you just got the one thing, now with Theory (even though it’s over) you get multitudes. You get a literary critic who is also a philosopher, a historian, a sociologist, a psychoanalyst, and a political scientist. Isn’t that great? Six fields in one! Because Theory fuses them all, you see. It doesn’t draw from these other fields, it doesn’t inform itself by reading and thinking broadly, it fuses them, so that it is in fact just as much sociology as lit crit and psychoanalysis as history. One wonders why the people in the other fields don’t do that. Why don’t historians do that fusing thing so that they too can be six things at once? They must not be as clever as Theorists. Or as Theorists used to be before Theory was over.

Mr. Williams points out that as universities lose funds, the humanities have come under more pressure, external and internal, to justify themselves, “not by saying that we do this high-research thing called theory, which nobody seems to care about, but to deliver the goods in a way that engineering does.”

Oh yeah. High-research. You bet. That’s one of the many impressive things about Theory: how research-driven it is. Funny that it all ends up sounding exactly alike then – unless all theorists do their research in the same place? But then wouldn’t they jostle each other over the archives? But maybe the Complicity & Hegemony archives have very very big print, so that there’s room for all.

So there you are, Theory is over, so it’s time for everyone to stop making fun of it now and let all those nice mappers-out of alternative ways of knowing get on with their high research and their deep informedness and their complex terminology and their fusing of many disciplines. And the sun sinks slowly in the west as we climb the hill, pausing for a last look back at the theorists’ peaceful little village [cue music, fade up]

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