In the 40 years since Derrida paid that visit to Johns Hopkins, succeeding generations of scholars have had time to fall in love with theory, fall out of love with it, and learn how to live with it. As in any long-term relationship, there’s a continuing re-evaluation and reimagining of what works and what does not. Rei Terada, chairwoman of comparative literature at the University of California at Irvine, says: “As the 60s becomes a historical period… we can make finer distinctions and groupings among things that seemed all of a piece closer to the time. … People are starting to sort out such legacies.” No one still believes, for instance, “that all French theory is politically progressive,” she says.
It may be neither fair nor accurate, decades after Theory hit its high-water mark, to keep using it as a whipping boy for everything that has gone wrong with literary studies. “The problem of the humanities is funding, lack of institutional support, lowering enrollments, lowering numbers of hires, the rise of part-time labor,” says Andrew Parker, a professor of English at Amherst College. “This is the real crisis, not whether we have theory with a capital T or a small T.” —Jennifer Howard —From the issue dated December 16, 2005 (Chronicle)