In defense of literary theory.

Examining higher ed.
Nov. 17 2005 1:47 PM

The Death of Literary Theory

Is it really a good thing?

(Continued from Page 1)

Did Post-Modernism—in this instance, some twilit mélange of Gadamer and Lyotard and Habermas and Kuhn and Latour, many of whose original beachhead in America had been the credulous English department—overreach in taking on science? Maybe. But on its way to producing a new generation of lawyers and engineers and surgeons (and risk arbitrageurs and pharma lobbyists), was it so wrong for a university to indulge one department whose time was spent agonizing over the entire mission of knowledge production itself? By never firmly establishing what it itself was for, the English department cultivated habits of withering self-reflection and so became one mechanism by which the university could stay in touch with its nonutilitarian self and subject its own practices to ongoing critique. Did the theory era produce bullshit by the mountain-load? Of course it did. But by allowing "literary theory" to turn into a pundit's byword, signifying the pompous, the outmoded, the shallow, the faddish, we may have quietly resolved the argument over what a university is for in favor of no self-reflection whatsoever.

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