D.G. Myers has a provocative -- if also rather silly -- pop at Theory, Seven theses about the history of literary theory, over on his excellent A Commonplace Blog. Provocative because each of the seven theses contain banalities, truisms and misapprehensions in equal measure; silly because -- well, attacking Theory (which is so capacious) in such a bluff way always strikes as fatuous. Nonetheless, the post warmed me up for the day, and you can't ask for more than that on such a frosty morning!

Myers does pull out a quote that I did very much enjoy from J.V. Cunningham who wrote:

If I read books I should know how books are made and where to find them. If I read Shakespeare I should know it may not be Shakespeare. We call the one bibliography, the other textual criticism. If I read a language I should know the language, whether it be of Tudor London or contemporary Western American. We call this philology. If what I read has any real reference I should know something of the referent. We call this history. If the referent is, in part, as it is in Lycidas, prior literature, I should know that. We call this literary history (more...)

Readers Comments

  1. The earlier post about why the Left dominates the universities is just as silly.

  2. That's me: Mr Silly Man. Of course, the "earlier post about why the Left dominates the universities" is an exposition of Joseph Schumpeter. But perhaps he is silly too. Thanks at all events for the link. In my "Seven theses about the history of literary theory," I did not intend to "pop" theory, but to offer some tentative hypotheses about its historical character. If they are silly--and they may well be--I should be grateful to hear how. Who knows? You might even "helpen sely Myers of his wo."

  3. Well Mark, you certainly appear to have got under D.G.'s skin!

    To me, D.G.'s original piece, & subsequent comments, are more revealing about US campus culture, & US academics' perceptions thereof, than 'Theory' per se, or literary criticism in general. I attended an interesting seminar in International Theory last week, interesting because it betrayed a similar obsession, & indeed preciousness, within the US academy regarding the workings of the academy (entirely inappropriately for the seminar's audience).

    The significant point towards which D.G. is groping is the _fact_ of 'Theory' being a US academic phenomenon (neatly encapsulated in D.G.'s correct observation that Derrida, Barthes & the rest of the gang were not 'Theorists'). Once this fact becomes clear, the more or less incoherent (to a UK reader) ramblings about the politics of 'Theory' making up the final 'theses' also become clearer (as does D.G.'s earlier post about why academics are 'Leftists'). And I think this is just why these particular posts strike you & me as 'silly'.

    A genuine challenge for D.G. might be to account for why it was that, at a certain moment in the history of the US academy, the writings of a bunch of French philosophers, historians, social anthropologists, etc., should suddenly be taken up in the way that they were, & why this process in turn should give rise to the academic phenomena ultimately grouped together under the general rubric of 'Theory'. However, this would require the adoption of a perspective on US academic & campus culture which D.G.s recent posts haven't demonstrated.

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