A bit more theory stuff. Wayne Booth had an amusing piece in Critical Inquiry (winter 2004); a 'whither theory?' special issue. (Actually, a discussion of the future of CI, but that just turns into 'whither theory?') He submitted two 'letters', one by 'anon', one in his own name. Anon is frank and quite caustic The trouble with Critical Inquiry is that it publishes things that are badly written. Also, it publishes little that is either critical or inquiring. Concerning that last item in particular (italics in original):
Too many current essays seem to me to do no genuine inquiring. Many are only evangelical preaching (disguised with academic polysyllables); they read as if they had been rejected by editors in some field far outside “the humanities.” Even the essays devoted to some form of literary criticism too often commit the kind of a priori criticism that Ronald Crane once labeled “the high priori road”: the author is predetermined to find this or that evidence for this or that ideological conviction, and when the evidence is found, as the author always can claim, the critical task is over, with little attention to whether the “found” evidence is really there or only invented by the hypothesis.
Genuine inquiry requires that the author openly consider more than one hypothesis about the thesis or topic or question. Again and again I find myself annoyed by articles presenting a plausible case for this or that point, but with not a hint about rival hypotheses or sound argument about why they don’t hold up.
Then, in the second letter, signing his own name:
There are moments when I fear that the future of criticism, like the future of our world, is doom-ridden. But the very existence of Critical Inquiry, with its many successes out there in that “world,” refutes my absurd pessimism. Keep up the good work.
Wayne Booth, calmly and sincerely forgiving you for turning down his brilliant essay defending various forms of hypocrisy, including the perhaps silly coinage “hypocrisy upward.”
The roots of this sort of ironic cynicism are the subject of my big, fat mock-Platonic dialogue, "The Advantages and Disadvantages of Theory for Life" (PDF). Long-time readers have been exposed to this material in various incarnations but more recent acquaintances - Jonathan, McGruff, Amardeep - will perhaps be interested. I welcome your critical comments in particular. The dialogue is largely about Eagleton, who I see has been batted back and forth in comments. (And thanks to Ray for providing me with the nice Hazlitt quote many months back. The associated visual image might serve as a melancholy emblem for the MLA.)
The linked version is shorter than a version presently under consideration for publication at Arion though still very long (17,000 words). The whole thing's been in limbo for more than a year. Well, we'll see whether it finds a happy home. If I ever get around to fundamentally rewriting it, I'll probably try to drain off some of the bile.
Oh, and apparently our iBook lives and I can go pick it up tomorrow. (Belle was despondent when she got back from Bali and said 'where's the computer? I haven't read Josh Marshall in a week.' And I had to tell her the internets got cancelled.)