Theory, Literature, Hoax

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein in the New York Times:

Goldstein-t_CA0-popup We love stories as much as we need them, but a funny thing has happened to departments of literature. The study of literature as an art form, of its techniques for delighting and instructing, has been replaced by an amalgam of bad epistemology and worse prose that goes by many names but can be summed up as Theory. The situation seems to call for a story, and one written in the style of Jorge Luis Borges, the grand chronicler of the tragicomic struggle between humans and logic.

Rumors had reached us of a doctrine called Theory emanating from distant corners of the university. We in the Department of Philosophy understood it immediately as a grand hoax. I will not dwell on my particular amusement, in which I was so tragically at odds with my collaborator, Theo Rhee. This is the story not of my particular emotions but rather of Theory. Suffice it to say that the self-parody of the appellation, singular and majuscule as if affixed in Plato’s firmament, appeared to rule out all interpretations competing with that of shenanigan. So, too, did the buffoonery of the language, phraseology bloated past the point of grotesqueness. Above all, what convinced us that we had an advanced absurdist on our hands was the localization of Theory to departments of literature, the very experts steeped in the collective genius of expression, whom we judged to be as likely to embrace violations of the laws of sense and felicity as physicists to make merry with violations of the laws of nature. We looked to these colleagues to explain a poem to us, not to tell us our epistemology.

More here.