July 09, 2004

The "Death" of "Theory" As

The "Death" of "Theory"

As many of our readers may know, it has become fashionable among a certain subset of academic radicals to proclaim the “death of theory.” This exclamation, naturally, is fully in line with Nietzsche’s mention of the supposed “death of God,” and Roland Barthes’ stentorian call for the “death of the author.”

Call us hopelessly retardataire, but we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” can’t help but noticing that God and sundry authors appear to be alive and kicking, whereas Messrs. Nietzsche and Barthes are no longer with us. Perhaps this is a sign of the “birth of irony”?

But we digress. Although overwhelmed by the pontifications about the “death of theory”—especially on the part of such theory-hounds as Terry Eagleton and Henry Louis “Skip” Gates—we aren’t particularly sanguine that so-called “theory” is in its death throes.

Before we dilate on this situation, dear reader, let us offer a potted discussion of what our friends on the academic Left mean when they say “theory.” As anyone familiar with the current dilapidated state of the humanities in American universities, fashionable po-mo types never seem to say what kind of “theory” they are discussing. Theory of gravity? Game theory? No, sir.

Rather, our coteries of tenured radicals appear to be concerned only with a knot of chi-chi “critical theory” that carries with it a vertiginous assortment of Marxist politics, impenetrable jargon, and a systematic missing of the point. To some hotshots among the academic leftists—such as the abovementioned Messrs. Eagleton and Gates—such “theory” is dead.

Before you become terribly misty-eyed about the departing of this beloved cant, dear reader, let us offer a word of caution. The proclamation of the “death of theory” seems to us much like the mention of the death of Elvis. Sure, he may have died, but there has been lots of silly talk about him since he left this earth.

And, unlike “theory,” at least Elvis contributed to society. We, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” aren’t particularly big fans of Mr. Presley, but we are mightily impressed by his serving of our country in the military. “Theory,” on the other hand, has merely offered the wartime journalism of Paul de Man, who, before he became an academic superstar, was busy writing anti-Semitic agitprop in European newspapers. We don’t want to come across as too preachy, but we are inclined to shout “advantage Elvis.”

Much like a doyen of academic radicalism, we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” have digressed again. In short, we doubt that the academic barbarism known as “theory” has died, and that journals that were formerly chock-a-block with mentions of “hegemony,” “the Other,” and “the subaltern” will quickly become bereft of such linguistic legerdemain.

Call us pessimistic, but we, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” have the sneaking suspicion that proclaiming the “death of theory” is the new way to gain deep respect among those most enraptured by “theory” itself.

And this, dear reader, leads us to our final point. If those heralding the “death of theory” really want to be taken seriously, please inform us, the crack young staff of “The Hatemonger’s Quarterly,” of where this “theory” is hiding out, and we would happily kill it.

Surely “theory” deserves the death sentence for its crimes against the English language?

Posted at July 9, 2004 12:01 AM | TrackBack