Saturday, February 16, 2008

Nealon, Jeffrey T. "The Swerve around P: Literary Theory after Interpretation." POSTMODERN CULTURE 17.3 (2007).

When I was in grad school--not that long ago--just about everything I needed to know was in the P section. I knew those shelves like the back of my hand. But I guess it is true that, in Library of Congress terms, for my work in recent years it's been all B's, H's, and J's (Philosophy, Social Science, and Politics), hardly any P's--both in terms of the theory and criticism that I read, and in terms of the work that I publish. At first I thought that this was simply an anomaly of my research agendas; but an overwhelming number of colleagues I've since talked to about this experience have similar tales of the swerve around P. Others of course have different preferred Library of Congress designations for their research: the vast D through F shelves for the department historians, Q and R for science studies, more H and J for the queer theorists and cultural studies people, as well as a healthy smattering of G and T (geography and technology). And even those whose work remains firmly on the language and literature shelves admit that much of what goes into their books on literature requires research from other places: history, sociology, social science, not to mention the unclassifiable archival research that informs so much of the work on the P shelves. In short, even the scholarship on the language and literature shelves isn't "literary" in quite the same way it was even a decade ago. There's plenty of superb "theory" and "criticism" being produced in and around English departments, but the adjective "literary" seems oddly out of place when it comes to describing it--inapplicable as much to the work of historians ("don't call us literary historians," a colleague warns) as to theorists (editors at Rowman and Littlefield quickly wrenched the word "literary" out of the title of my co-authored textbook, The Theory Toolbox--marketing death, they said). . . . Read the whole article here:

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