Thinking About Theory's Empire

Today the theory era is effectively ending and the public intellectual tradition is reasserting itself, along with a renewed attention in the aesthetic that many theorists dismissed as no more than an ideological formation. But thanks to tenure and the intellectual investments we make as graduate students, theory will have a long afterlife. It will also continue to inflect how many important issues are discussed, including the role of language in literature, the degree to which literary works reference the world outside the text, the role of social construction including class, race, and gender in forming our conventions of representation (as writers) and interpretation (as critics). Critical movements leave behind a residue of common sense after the dust of their polemics has settled and the most extreme positions have been abandoned. The New Criticism left its mark on how everyone reads, especially poetry, long after its assumptions about the organic unity of the text had been roundly rejected. Deconstruction terminated the notion, never entertained by any great critic in the past, that a literary text could be cracked open with a single definitive interpretation. Poststructuralism in general helped us question the belief that we could find a disinterested stance that would make some kind of definitive critical understanding possible, perhaps even objectively true. —Morris DicksteinThinking About Theory’s Empire (The Valve)

A thoughtful review of Theory’s Empire.