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Suicide theory
While she may bemoan the sagging readership of Critical Inquiry (“Theory: Still on the Table,” February/04), Megan Lisagor doesn’t have a clue why this journal is headed for oblivion. She thinks 9/11 encouraged people to lose interest. On the contrary, theory has recently become a victim of rust-belt academia as it desperately tries to find the theory du jour to keep it relevant and shiny. College students introduced to this glib and devilishly clever analysis find it at best mystifying and at worst repellent. Orientalism, feminist and queer theory, disability studies, and ten others have all lost cachet. Another cause for disaffection is the prose in which theorists encase their studies; they live by jargon and die by impenetrable syntax. Two “academic heavyweights” mentioned, Homi Bhabha (Harvard) and Fredric Jameson (Duke) won Philosophy and Literature’s Bad Writing Contest a few years ago for their efforts to advance theory. These luminaries cannot craft a transparent or quotable sentence.

It is simply a truism to say “theory is perennial” and will always exist—witness the staying power of Plato and Aristotle. What is wrong with recent theory is its relentless 1960s agenda, humorless content, arbitrary readings of texts of the dead white European males (and females), and populism cloaked in pretentious language. Theory almost always receives bad press at the annual Modern Language Association meetings and is the butt of endless jokes and filler in newspapers. Its ultimate demise will incur no surprises and few regrets.

Arthur J. Weitzman, AB’54, AB’56, AM’57
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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