Theory: c/d

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For those of you who affiliate themselves with a critical discipline, do you find it worthwhile? Because for me, theory contaminates the way I break down a text and also the in the composition of a paper, especially considering that I tend to latch onto superficial details of the method. Do you find it even necessary to use it as a lense through which to examine things?

I should note that I'm basically a New Crit guy, though that's sort of the default "non-theory" nowadays. And in that light, what do you consider to be your methodology?

Leee (Leee), Wednesday, 21 May 2003 22:33 (nineteen years ago) link

New Criticism is not non-theoretical: it is a theory which pretends it isn't a theory.

alext (alext), Thursday, 22 May 2003 07:20 (nineteen years ago) link

Maybe using theory is like the three stages to becoming the overman: you have to take it all on, then say no to it, before you can say yes to it. That's my theory ha ha ha.

m-ry-nn (m-ry-nn), Thursday, 22 May 2003 09:14 (nineteen years ago) link

I agree with Mr T, post-theory, non-theory all uses some kind of theory, though often a different one to the one crystalised as theory (which is a problem because any theory is just A theory and hence calling the dominant set THEORY in stone is to obscure the idea that all critical tools are, one way or another, theories).

I think it is usefyl when using any kind of theory to - at each stage of deduction - to refer back to the text and ask yourself if what you have teased out of it is really there, or there because theory has twisted it to that standpoint. Or more importantly if it actually says anything useful about the piece.

Pete (Pete), Thursday, 22 May 2003 09:25 (nineteen years ago) link

i pity the fool etc etc

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 22 May 2003 09:37 (nineteen years ago) link

i'm tellin ya hannibal there ain't no such thing as nothin
shutup and drink this milk
zzzzzzz

Snowy Mann (rdmanston), Thursday, 22 May 2003 10:05 (nineteen years ago) link

The idea that 'everyone has a theory' was a standard line in the High Theory days - say, the early 80s. It doubtless contains an important gesture at truth. But it never wholly convinced me.

I assume that everyone has assumptions. I presume that many have presumptions. I expect that lots have expectations. I suspect that some play host to ideology.

But theory? Maybe, maybe not.

the pinefox, Thursday, 22 May 2003 10:55 (nineteen years ago) link

i play guest to ideology until it begins to check its watchand yawn conspicuously

once it even went and put on its pyjamas

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 22 May 2003 12:01 (nineteen years ago) link

I would like to read a book called something like "Ideology's Pyjamas: Critical Theory, the Legacy of Hegel".

Tim (Tim), Thursday, 22 May 2003 12:10 (nineteen years ago) link

What makes you suspicious of the everybody has a theory line (or everybody is using a theory line). I think this may be a "your assumptions are my theory" thing, but interested to see you thrash out the differences.

Pete (Pete), Thursday, 22 May 2003 12:29 (nineteen years ago) link

"Capitalism arose and took off its pajamas..."

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Thursday, 22 May 2003 12:33 (nineteen years ago) link

I think that saying that everyone has a theory unhelpfully smudges the line between those who have theories and those who don't.

I hope this is the most question-begging statement I have ever made on ilx.

I think it's worth it for comedic value.

Probably I believe it too.

the pinefox, Thursday, 22 May 2003 12:59 (nineteen years ago) link

I've attempted over the past few years to go at life entirely sans-theory, to be sortuv an open point of consciousness simply gathering all the sorts of sensory data I can, logging it, and making observations as I go...but then, to my dismay, I realized that this approach to life is still my living out a FUCKING THEORY! MUAHAHA!

nickalicious (nickalicious), Thursday, 22 May 2003 13:06 (nineteen years ago) link

I prefer to remain unaffiliated.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 22 May 2003 14:52 (nineteen years ago) link

This disaffiliation was hard-won, though. I think I'm still in the process of winning it.

The pinefox has maybe the most consistent takes I've ever encountered in such a thoughtful person. I think his refusal to "perform" other people's takes, or modes of talking and thinking, may possibly constitute a theory—that a human being may be consistent and indivisible, the same in private as well as in public? Maybe that's not a theory. But it's not a fact, either.

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 22 May 2003 14:59 (nineteen years ago) link

subtitle for thread: the week UC took over ILX.

gygax! (gygax!), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:17 (nineteen years ago) link

I think the Pinefox's point is maybe similar to one made by Steve Connor here: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/eh/skc/interview/

What about political effect, though? Like a lot of those involved with cultural studies, I used to have the grandiose delusion that my work was actually a way of doing politics. I now think it absurd to believe that thinking and speaking and writing about cultural forms and processes in the ways and in the contexts in which I am ever likely to be able to do it can serve my political beliefs and commitments, or for that matter anyone else's, in any useful way. It's not that cultural studies has no political dimensions; everything, as we so uselessly know, is indeed political. It is just that cultural studies is such an extremely slow and ineffective way to bail the boat. People in academic life who think they are making important political differences for the most part fail to recognise that they are just marching in step with much more powerful forces that are making the real differences. The work of politics is vastly necessary and for the most part tedious; the study of culture is endlessly fascinating and pretty much gratuitous. The legacy of the 1970s was to suggest that politics ought to be natural, organic, expressive, fulfilling, therapeutic, sensuous, stylish, fun: that it should not only be the politics of culture, but cultural politics.

"...everything, as we so uselessly know, is indeed political..." and, similarly, everything, equally uselessly, is theoretical

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:23 (nineteen years ago) link

"Because for me, theory contaminates the way I break down a text and also the in the composition of a paper" - going back to the original question, who seemed to have a definite definition of what Theory actually was (and this is the THEORY vs theory argument I refer to above). Can this be merely reduced to "the reader contaminates a text and everything they do". Is the reader with their bundle of possibly contradictory ideas consistent with a theory. Possibly not, so perhaps what we should be doing, when undergoing the process of examining a work of art is to actually examine how we are doing it (and why). I suggest that what will be left won't be a theory - and certainly not a consistent one - but a jumble of mini-theories (cultural lemmas?) which could well be contradictory - leading to our disillusionment in this thing called Theory in the first place.

I'm not sure theory = politics in the Connor article.

Pete (Pete), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:30 (nineteen years ago) link

I wasn't claiming any equivalence. I was just making the point that when you say "of course, everything is [x]", [x] ceases to be a useful term.

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:33 (nineteen years ago) link

Jerry saying that politics / the world of affairs marches on without cultural studies would map on to saying that the world of literature would march on without eng lit as a discipline. PF's objection to calling new crit a theory is more of a semantic one, no?

[x] is always useful for marking a spot.

Tim (Tim), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:38 (nineteen years ago) link

No, fair enough. I suppose the point being made is though that when someone says I am anti-theory, and you point out that that too is a theory - then they are forced to say "I am anti that particular theory" which makes a lot more sense.

However if we go to a more rigid faux scentific line that theories are great touchstones which have been established and one can use, as opposed to our internal personal ever changing theories then you might be getting somewhere. The latter is more important especially if you give it a chance to migrate to become the former (how to turn my opinion into a theory - with rigour).

Yes Tim, but since eng lit is so tied intot he world of literature (merely in authors, book deals and reasons why people buy things) that it would be a significantly different world of literature, as opposed to the potentially very similar world of politics without cultural studies.

Pete (Pete), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:40 (nineteen years ago) link

i.e. Alext is saying "'theory' = a way of reading / thinking" , PF is saying "hold on not necessarily 'theory' means something else".

Pete, tell that to Michael Crichton.

Tim (Tim), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:42 (nineteen years ago) link

Cor, The Andromed Strain was on TV the other night. That film rocks.

Tim, I told it to David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury et al.

Pete (Pete), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:47 (nineteen years ago) link

Isn't theory, etymologically, derived from notions of taking a step back and surveying a territory? Viewed in that light, I suppose, most people aren't theorists (in as much as the common sense that we all use to go about things day to day may be an inherited sediment of old theories, but doesn't involve much actual theorising).

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:48 (nineteen years ago) link

don't forget form = sedimented content, ppl

also don't forget, soylent green = ppl

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:48 (nineteen years ago) link

my new theory will combine both these facts

mark s (mark s), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:49 (nineteen years ago) link

Can you call it : Man Will Eat Itself

Pete (Pete), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:50 (nineteen years ago) link

"et al"

Lodge and the boys are the equivalent of pressure groups.

Tim (Tim), Thursday, 22 May 2003 15:55 (nineteen years ago) link

I think "politics is everywhere" is so over-rated that it's in danger of becoming under-rated.

(with apologies to N. Dastoor)

Tracer Hand (tracerhand), Thursday, 22 May 2003 17:14 (nineteen years ago) link

who seemed to have a definite definition of what Theory actually was

yes I'm talking about poststructuralism, postcolonialism, psychoanalytic theory, formalism, etc.

Can this be merely reduced to "the reader contaminates a text and everything they do".

Well philosophically I feel that the text isn't a text till it symbioses with a reader -- splitting hairs re: "contamination"/breathes (new) life into text. Though what I meant with "contamination" was more insidious, insomuch re: formal composition of a paper. In my experience, my personal nuances precede any formally theoretical modes while in the act of reading and extemporaneous analysis, and the contamination occurs while in the act of writing the paper (possibly i.e. concrete, methodical analysis).

Is the reader with their bundle of possibly contradictory ideas consistent with a theory. Possibly not [...] I suggest that what will be left won't be a theory - and certainly not a consistent one - but a jumble of mini-theories [...] which could well be contradictory - leading to our disillusionment in this thing called Theory in the first place.

Pete is OTM, AFAIC. I notice in myself a distinct and consistent set (though officially it may be tangled) of analytical tendencies, though it seems to have encroached on reader response criticism without having been exposed to much of it. I don't notice the contradictions, though I'm sure they're there, though I feel that my disillusionment with Theory is that it filters a text in a way that I don't like, and now it's lunch time.

Leee (Leee), Thursday, 22 May 2003 18:12 (nineteen years ago) link

Isn't it funny that the 'theory' people feel most affronted by is 'post' theory, eg deconstruction etc. That 'theory' as I understand it, was the most un-theoretical of all - it tries never to take a position, sometimes openly stating that this is from fear of what happened under the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. So perhaps what these anti-theory people really want IS a theory, a morality, not a bunch of 'interpretations' that can be twisted to mean anything.

m-ry-nn (m-ry-nn), Thursday, 22 May 2003 20:17 (nineteen years ago) link

Wait, so the theories which self-identify as Theory aren't theoretical while the theory which denies its status as Theory is more theoretical?

m-ry-nn I see your point but the way you're using "theory" seems similar to a homosexual accusing a homophobe of being secretly gay.

chester (synkro), Thursday, 22 May 2003 20:50 (nineteen years ago) link

Meaning, what's at stake in the use of the word "theory"?

chester (synkro), Thursday, 22 May 2003 20:55 (nineteen years ago) link

(that is also a question for Leee, btw)

chester (synkro), Thursday, 22 May 2003 22:07 (nineteen years ago) link

The Connor point -- that to say politics is everywhere is useless -- is true, but also pretty obvious. Yet it is still worth saying. The combination of identity politics and cheap versions of Foucault (although it's possibly inherent in Foucault too) in literary and cultural studies has tended to reduce everything to power, and equated power with politics, and therefore analysis of power with resistance to power and thus a form of political action. Wrong wrong wrong. Of course lots of people have been saying something else. I see a dissatisfaction with this kind-of-sub-Foucauldian approach lying at the heart of all the interesting work on politics since the turn of the 1980s (Lacoue-labarthe and Nancy, however wrong-headedly; the Arendt revival; Lefort; Ranciere; the Actor-network theory stuff deriving from Latour; Derrida's work in the late eighties natch; the pluralist turn in liberal political theory; Habermas's move from legitimation to deliberative democracy; critical political theory a la Connolly, Honig etc). But since this work is actually about politics by and large, it doesn't really register in literary studies, which I guess is where most people on this thread are coming from if they still see 'Theory' as some alien invader. Maybe.

alext (alext), Friday, 23 May 2003 09:24 (eighteen years ago) link

also it's completely missing the point of foucault, which wd be to elaborate and examine ALL the varied and conflicting ways power operates (cf the traci lords thread maybe at some point!!)

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 09:32 (eighteen years ago) link

Who's missing the point?

Maybe points are there to be missed (as well as... taken?).

Probably Foucault had many.

Interesting thread; aspects of it have run away from my ken a little. But I think it has succeeded in digging up around 'theory' a bit. I would say 'problematized' but Rorty has this week persuaded me not to use that word.

the pinefox, Friday, 23 May 2003 19:00 (eighteen years ago) link

Also, 'all' is a tall order. Assuming a multiplicity, then 'Some of the ones that seem interesting at the moment' is possibly as much as one writer can manage. But not necessarily.

(I am reminded of the Nipper's suggestion that a critic should show '*infinite*' sensitivity: an even taller order.)

(Foucault + Nipper surely = Cozen to thread)

the pinefox, Friday, 23 May 2003 19:19 (eighteen years ago) link

theory: dud
praxis: classic

arch Ibog (arch Ibog), Friday, 23 May 2003 19:35 (eighteen years ago) link

John Donne + Critical Analysis = A Holiday in Hell

Well, maybe more so if you're dealing with the Holy Sonnets

The Man they call Dan (The Man they call Dan), Friday, 23 May 2003 19:37 (eighteen years ago) link

eighteen years pass...

absolutely seen off mate pic.twitter.com/jA6pi6qxB4

— Douglas Murphy (@entschwindet) May 10, 2022

mark s, Tuesday, 10 May 2022 20:55 (one week ago) link


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