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10 Theory & Its Discontents

Special Focus Archive

IN ALMOST EVERY year of the 1990s, someone declared that Theory was dead. It became virtually a rite de passage for young and old literary scholars alike to denounce the theoretical excesses of the 1980s. And yet the revolt against theory took many different forms.

For some, it meant a return to "traditional" kinds of literary appreciation and scholarship. The formation of the Association of Literary Critics and Scholars represented an Arnoldian guerrilla attack on the theory-happy MLA. For others, it meant an effort to rescue left wing politics from opacity and obfuscation. In 1996, NYU Physicist Alan Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that he had fooled the editors of the radical journal Social Text into publishing an essay of highly theoretical sounding nonsense about quantum physics.

Meanwhile, in a more measured rebellion, cultural studies scholars and new historicists of various types sought to replace the aporia with the anecdote. And everyone it seemed wanted to write less about the problematics of the self and more about the problem of being themselves. Of course, even if high theory has evaporated, its critical vocabularies remain.

The I's Have It by Adam Begley
Duke's "moi" critics expose themselves.

Enjoy Your Zizek! by Robert S. Boynton
Excitable Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek is one of academia's most charismatic figures. Is he the Hegel of the Balkans, or just all over the map?

Jameson & Son by Scott McLemee
A buffed-and-studded critic uses Frederic Jameson's work in cultural theory as the key to explaining... Jameson's work in cultural theory.

That Damned Elusive Bruno Latour by David Berreby
Is the leading figure in science studies the next Kuhn or a mischevious imp?

The Color of the Law by Larissa Macfarquhar
Critical Race Theory's case against the law.

Now in Print:The Sokal Hoax: The Sham that Shook the Academy


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