Thursday, January 29, 2004

Literary Theory: Arts and Letters Daily links today to a Christian Science Monitor feature offering some hope for escape from the political and social postmodernism that has ruled the faculty lounge for so many years.

Loath as I am to admit it, I was an English major in college (minor in Poli Sci), and literary theory killed whatever joy I once found in literature. I don't even read fiction today, aside from a piece of trash now and again (The Corrections and some Eggers, which we have covered here, and the occasional pulp novel). And the CSM piece captures why:

The idea behind "Literary Theory" was to interrogate and refute what [theorist Terry] Eagleton and others thought of as lazy, received notions of what is true. [Note: What is actually true is exactly what Mr. Eagleton says, despite the dearth of objective truth out there. Just one of the conundrums these folks elide.]

A Marxist himself, Eagleton would have been more interested in the relations between social classes in a Dickens novel, say, than a single character's suffering and redemption.

That's bound to perk up an undergrad: Tell him that he's going to read one of the greatest creators of memorable characters in the English language -- but f*ck the characters; we're out for vague intimations of Marxism.

I played the game for a while -- and that's all theory is, in the end: a dead-end parlor game for Volvo'ed radicals and cappucino revolutionaries; radical chic with an office overlooking the quad. It wore me out. Postmodern literary theory is pretty clear in stating that literature is not meant to be understood, except as a document of coded politics and social norms to be critiqued and deconstructed -- apparently for nothing more than the cheap moralizing kick that comes from playing trainspotting with the sexual, racial, and gender barbarisms of previous days. (And, cheap moralizing kicks pretty much defining contemporary party politics, I think I see why I've been driven toward the libertarian camp since college.) It's pornography for the social-justice set, nothing more.

Some day I hope to finally dive back into Bleak House, but for now I haver too many memories of lectures in which we were warned against sympathy for Richard's youthful materialism, and scolded for mentioning that Mrs. Jellyby is the quintessential modern American liberal, pursuing her "cause" for poor African children, while own her children fully escape her attention.

No comments: