Kevin Power at the Dublin Review of Books:
Pretentiously Opaque would perhaps have made a good alternative title for The Meaninglessness of Meaning, a slim volume collecting some of the LRB’s best writing on “the Theory Wars”, ranging from Brigid Brophy’s review of Colin MacCabe’s James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word (1979) to Adam Shatz’s essay-portrait of Claude Lévi-Strauss (2011), and touching, via essays on various gurus, on most of the key theoretical points in between: Pierre Bourdieu on Jean-Paul Sartre; Richard Rorty on Foucault; Michael Wood on Roland Barthes; Frank Kermode on Paul de Man; Judith Butler on Jacques Derrida; and Lorna Sage on Toril Moi, among others. Pretentious opacity is not, of course, the sort of thing you tend to find in the LRB – as Adam Shatz notes in an elegant introduction, “you’ll never see a piece of ‘pure’ theory in the LRB”, because the paper is committed to “the kind of lucid exposition of ideas that theorists have rejected in favour of a more Baroque, circuitous, self-consciously rarefied style”. The Meaninglessness of Meaning is therefore a partial (and inevitably lopsided) record of how theory fared once it ventured past the campus gates and found itself wandering the streets of the metropolis. More or less useless, I would imagine, to anyone who doesn’t already know something about theory, it nonetheless provokes some interesting reflections on the world that theory made – which is our world, whether we like it or not.