The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory

By Dwight Eddins | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

DWIGHT EDDINS

WHEN W. H. AUDEN glibly commanded the Harvard Phi Betes in 1946, "Thou shalt not commit a social science," he could hardly have anticipated that a later generation of literature professors would "commit" themselves and their discipline to such social science paradigms as Derridean philosophy, Lacanian psychology, post-Saussurean linguistics, feminist sociology, Marxist economics, and the New Historicism. In only two decades this poststructuralist enterprise has proceeded--if I may suborn its own terminology--from the "marginalized" to the "hegemonic." Within this span, the stocks of particular theories have risen and fallen, some to the point where they are no longer traded under their original corporate names. Even these, however, have survived through mergers wrought by the collective spirit of the enterprise.

Deconstruction, for instance, pronounced dead with almost as great a frequency as the novel, lives on in the "hermeneutics of suspicion" that informs all of the approaches in question. One also encounters feminist scholars wedded to Lacanian analysis, a marriage consisting--in Nina Baym's view--of incompatible bedfellows; and then there is the subtler union of modified Marxist precepts and the New Historicism. These amalgamations of comprehensive theories into a larger totality, and the cerebral virtuosity with which they are accomplished, typify the ineluctable Wille zum System that has enabled post-structuralism to claim, magisterially, the intellectual center of literary criticism.

But the magisterial readily mutates into the imperious, the imperial, the fashion of the emperor. And emperors' fashions must be scrutinized from time to time to make sure that claims of definitive and elegant coverage are justified, that indecent exposure is subjected to exposé. Hence the title of this book and of the Eighteenth Alabama Symposium on English and American Literature, at which the papers collected here were originally presented. The charge I presented to the speakers was to discuss questions raised by themselves and others about the truth value, methodology, practice, and humanistic status of various poststructuralist theories and about the significance of this questioning for the future of theory. Implicit in these concerns is not only the exposure of flaws

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The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • What is a Humanistic Criticism? 13
  • Notes 38
  • The End Of The Poststructuralist Era 45
  • The Current Polarization Of Literary Studies 62
  • Notes 77
  • Time and the Intelligentsia - A Patchwork in Nine Parts, with Loopholes 81
  • Notes 99
  • The Agony of Feminism - Why Feminist Theory is Necessary After All 101
  • Works Cited 116
  • Confessions of a Reluctant Critic Or, the Resistance to Literature 118
  • Deconstruction After the Fall 132
  • Notes 147
  • The Poetic Fallacy 150
  • Works Cited 165
  • Literary Theory And Its Discontents 166
  • Notes 198
  • Panel Discussion 199
  • Contributors 221
  • Index 223
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