Theory at Yale: The Strange Case of Deconstruction in America

By Marc Redfield | Go to book overview

Acknowledgments

This book began many years ago, promptly ran off the rails, and more than a decade later got put back on track. My intention had always been to write about the peculiar academic-mediatic event of “theory” in the American academy, the attention accorded the so-called “Yale Critics” in the 1970s, and the quasi-allegorical way in which Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man—above all de Man—came to represent “theory” at its “highest” and, seemingly, its most threatening and alluring. But as I began to collect information about the reception of the Yale Critics, I became curious about the institutional history of literary instruction at Yale and got sidetracked. Visiting New Haven in 1999, I was fortunate to have the chance to interview Maynard Mack and Louis Martz, and, a year later, during a trip to Ithaca, A. Dwight Culler; they told me stories about the old school of text editing and historical scholarship at Yale, and about how Mack and others introduced Brooks and Warren’s Understanding Poetry (1938) into their classes. During this same two-year period, which is to say around 1999–2000, Victor Brombert, Peter Brooks, Jacques Derrida, Shoshana Felman, Paul Fry, Thomas Greene, Geoffrey Hartman, Neil Hertz, Christopher Miller, J. Hillis Miller, and Ronald Paulson shared memories of and thoughts about the 1970s era with me. Once when I was passing through Baltimore, Richard Macksey welcomed me to his legendary library for an afternoon and regaled me with information about the epochal 1966 conference at Johns Hopkins. These fragments did not add up to a book—at least not one I am able to write—and those notes still sit in a box.

I mention this false start in order to thank the individuals who generously gave of their time. I also want to thank the staff of the Department of Manuscripts and Archives of Yale’s Sterling Library, in particular Bill Massa, for their help, and the staff of the Department of Special Collections at the University of California at Irvine, in particular Eddie Yeghiayan and Bill Landis, for theirs. Kari Conness and Ellen Scheible helped me gather data during an early phase in my research. The project was supported over several summers by research grants from Claremont Graduate University and, later, from Brown University.

Fragments of these chapters have been given as talks on many occasions

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