Welcome to the real world,
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
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