Postmodern literary theory is mutating rapidly in an attempt to survive, writes David Kirby in the Christian Science Monitor. Literature is making a comeback.
Large numbers of the last two generations of English majors have been instructed not to experience novels and poems directly, but rather to view them through the lens of some kind of theory — Marxism being one of the most popular.
The idea was to move away from viewing literature as having any innate “truth” of its own, and rather to study it in relationship to larger schools of thought. But the approach left many students complaining they spent more class time with dry theoreticians than with the great authors they had hoped to encounter.
Some academics are sick of theory. S.E. Gontarski, professor of Irish studies at Florida State University, says the old-line theorists who dominate universities will have to retire to produce real change.
But in the meantime, where Marx once ruled, today more down-to-earth literary explorations seem to be on the throne once more.
The Duke University English department’s spring courses include such homey-sounding subjects as “Victorian Literature,” ” ‘Ulysses’ and Irish Modernism,” and “Music in Literature and Philosophy, 1800-1945.” The on-line list course offerings run to nearly 35 pages, and Karl Marx isn’t mentioned once.
Theory turned out to be too boring. At least, that’s my theory.