What's Left of Theory? New Work on the Politics of Literary Theory

What's Left of Theory? New Work on the Politics of Literary Theory

What's Left of Theory? New Work on the Politics of Literary Theory

What's Left of Theory? New Work on the Politics of Literary Theory

Synopsis

A debate on the politics of theory is being conducted within literary studies. What is meant by politics? What is meant by theory? What's Left of Theory? is a vigorous engagement with the question : how today are theory and progressive thought connected? This book brings together not only outstanding questioners, but outstanding questions.

Excerpt

Judith Butler, John Guillory, and Kendall Thomas

For several years a debate on the politics of theory has been conducted energetically within literary studies. the terms of the debate, however, are far from clear. What is meant by politics? What is meant by theory? “Theory” more often than not appears to mean “poststructuralism, ” but it is unclear why (a) the history of literary theory should be collapsed into the synecdoche of poststructuralism and (b) whether poststructuralism, in its varied forms, can be referred to meaningfully as a unitary phenomenon. “Theory” sometimes operates as shorthand for a certain operation of formalism, the uncovering of the structural conditions and features of a text, a way of reading that culminates in a self-referential move, e.g. the text allegorizes some feature about textuality itself. the reigning suspicion toward this kind of formalism is that it suspends questions of context; if a text cannot thematize the world from which it comes, how can it constitute the basis of a politically informed reading? If, the argument goes, the text is not “about” something other than itself, it is certainly not “about” its world. This loss of referentiality is tantamount to the loss of political relevance.

There are, at least, two rejoinders to make to this characterization of theory. the first is that even if by “theory” one refers to the work of Derrida, de Man, Foucault, it is unclear that any of them are unequivocally formalist. For Derrida, the “form” of a literary text is

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