The Emperor Redressed: Critiquing Critical Theory

By Dwight Eddins | Go to book overview

THE END OF THE POSTSTRUCTURALIST ERA

FREDERICK CREWS

TIME IS BEGINNING to run out, I believe, for the body of literary theory and practice known as poststructuralism--the discourse that itself reduces all things to discourse according to the models provided by such thinkers as Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Louis Althusser, and Julia Kristeva. It has been a long, wild ride, extending from the mid-1970s through the present, and it has altered our intellectual style in ways that will probably linger for generations. Poststructuralists have helped even their adversaries to realize that self hood is shaped in part by tacit ideology, that "truth" often does the bidding of power, and that we should always ask whose interests are being served by a given claim to intellectual or cultural authority. For reasons that I want to explore, however, the literary inquiries conducted under the banner of this movement appear fated to produce mostly circular and monotonous pseudodiscoveries. Awareness of that fact is already causing dissatisfaction, not just in familiar humanistic quarters, but within the very circles that have hitherto been most hospitable to grand-theoretical speculation of a radical cast. And the dissatisfaction can only redouble as more and more academics from the left end of the political spectrum perceive the connection between flawed methodological premises and hollow and dogmatic findings.

I state this argument so baldly at the outset in order to show that I will not be taking the most commonly heard line of complaint against the discourse theorists. According to that critique, poststructuralism and "political correctness" are scarcely distinguishable phenomena, since they both seek to undermine the Western values that supposedly shine through our classic literature. I believe, on the contrary, that the relation of poststructuralism to the radical sentiment now dominating "advanced" academic thought is parasitic, replete with ironies, and above all, transitory. To miss that fact is to be abandoned to a quite unnecessary fatalism about the irreversible decline of the humanities, conceived as a steady loss of ground to the joint forces of trendiness and programmatic leftism.

-45-

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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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