Thursday, July 17, 2008
Bauerlein, Mark. "The Attack on Theory." CHRONICLE REVIEW July 16, 2008.
Back in the 1980s, when conservatives such as William Bennett began attacking what they termed “the politicization of the humanities,” they made a basic error. They blamed theorists for reducing texts to vested interests, for planting identity politics on campus, for subsuming aesthetic criteria beneath ideological criteria, and for disrespecting the noble inheritance of Western literature and philosophy. The accusations struck humanities professors as hare-brained and panicky and altogether political, but I observed a number of professional occasions to which they applied all-too-well, even though I despised all things Republican at the time. But in one respect the critics were mistaken from the start: they included deconstruction among the prime targets. Deconstruction made everything meaningless, they said, removing classroom discussion from a grounding in tradition and truth, and allowing wayward professors to steer the learning any which way. Deconstruction was a canon-buster, too, irreverent and roguish. It set the critic alongside the novelist—remember Hillis Miller gushing about the creative side of criticism? No wonder it appealed to graduate students and junior faculty, who were only too eager to espouse something that licensed them to drop their humility in the face of the past. . . . Read the rest here: http://chronicle.com/review/brainstorm/bauerlein/the-attack-on-theory.