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Study the Humanities: Read Theory

  • Flitch Coffee 641 Tillery Street Austin, TX, 78702 United States (map)

In this class, we'll consider Theory as a genre of writing that many critics feel lost it way with the Deconstructionist turn of the 70s: theory today, critics argue, is overly specialized, badly written and overly dependent on jargon, self-absorbed, and even nihilistic. Proponents argue that theory is and always has been "an engine for difference and change," an engine that needs continually evolving vocabulary in order to enact that change.  

Why should we read theory? Where does it get us? Does "jargon" communicate ideas better than "plain" language? In order to wade into these ancient questions, we'll read a typical critique of theory from 2000 by Andrew Delbanco (see the additional reading section, below, for an interesting review from two years later that adds shading to his ideas). We'll also read an essay by our Director of Education, Haylie Swenson, which draws liberally on theoretical jargon in a way that Haylie now feels somewhat conflicted about. 

Texts (optional, but encouraged):
"The Decline and Fall of Literature" Andrew Delbanco (NY Review of Books_
"Lions and Latour Litanies" Haylie Swenson (postmedieval)
"A 'Bad Writer' Bites Back" Judith Butler (NYTimes

Extra Credit:
"Academic Battleground": Review of The Victims' Revolution (Bruce Bawr) by Delbanco
"Bad Writing's Back" Mark Bauerlain

Bad writing award JPEG.jpg

The above was one of the winners of the bad writing contest held by the scholarly journal Literature and Philosophy for several years and referenced by Judith Butler.  

Earlier Event: January 9
Study the Humanities: Read Fiction