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Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent Paperback – April 20, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0231134170 ISBN-10: 0231134177

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 20, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231134177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231134170
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,500 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


This is a splendid anthology that evaluates, puts into perspective and thoughtfully criticizes contemporary literary and cultural theory. A welcome alternative to dogmatic thought, this book is designed to generate a lively debate. A must for every serious student of literature and culture.

(Thomas Pavel, University of Chicago, author of The Spell of Language: Poststructuralism and Speculation)

Patai and Corral's Theory's Empire represents the invigorating leading edge of a new diversity of thought in the academy, the vision of a healthy skeptical approach to what has become theoretical orthodoxy and dogmatism.

(Jon Erickson, Ohio State University, author of The Fate of the Object: From Modern Object to Postmodern Sign)

If you never quite believed that thought is the same as action, that fact is irrelevant, that declaration amounts to proof, or that cultures rather than individuals compose works of art, you will discover in Theory's Empire why you are neither deluded nor delusional. Theories may help scholarship seem relevant, but they are no substitute for empirical evidence, logical argument, and plain old common sense.

(Mary Lefkowitz, Wellesley College, author of Not Out Of Africa: How Afrocentrism Became AnExcuse To Teach Myth As History.)

Superb introductions, guaranteed to stir every reader dejected by deconstruction.

(Library Journal 1900-01-00)

Clearly, this is not your father's textbook; it's closer to The Norton Anthology of Screw-the Academy

(Michael Potemra National Review)

A sign that things may be changing...its 47 contributors patiently dissect all aspects of theory.

(James Seaton Wall Street Journal)

Theory's Empire is important because it shows that the opposition to theory is not just the preserve of intellectual lightweights.

(William Pannapacker Chronicle of Higher Education)

This is a valuable book for scholars and for those encountering literary theory for the first time... Recommended.


Theory's Empire is a unique documentation of an intellectual deformation that still affects the way literature is studied.

(Brian Vickers, A 2005 Book of the Year Times Literary Supplement)

Patai and Corral waste no time and pull no punches.

(Michael Berube Common Review 1900-01-00)

Theory's Empire offers a powerful retrospective on the rise of "Theory" in the American academy.

(Sara Castro-Klaren Modern Language Notes 1900-01-00)


Theory's Empiregathers together the work of many scholars and critics into a multi-faceted but coherent defense of literature, and of the many intellectual and temperamental habits that must accompany that defense-a belief in judgment and in literature's moral significance, and, most happily of all, a proud assertion of the love that dare not speak its name in university literature courses, the love of art. One hopes that future generations of students, wondering why they should study literature in the first place, will take strength from this volume.

(David Denby, author of Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World)|

Theory's Empire is a magnificent collection of essays that returns sanity and rationality to literary criticism, rescuing it from the esotericism, jargon and delusions under which it had been buried by the "theorizers." An indispensable book for lovers of genuine literature and criticism!

(Mario Vargas Llosa, author of The Way to Paradise)

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I'll close by encouraging you to simply enjoy.
Graham H. Seibert
Theory's Empire is a very important addition to the doorstop-level anthologies dealing with what-in the humanities and soft social sciences-is broadly termed "theory."
Richard B. Schwartz
It seems to me that this anthology is one which most critics of literature would definitely want to have in their library.
Shalom Freedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Richard B. Schwartz TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 31, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Theory's Empire is a very important addition to the doorstop-level anthologies dealing with what-in the humanities and soft social sciences-is broadly termed "theory." Subtitled "an anthology of dissent" its editors seek to challenge the conclusions and highlight the shortcomings of a collection of -isms currently practiced within the academy.

The high water mark of Theory is now in the past but this anthology is still very much welcome since there is still life left in the dying dragon and-as in the conclusion of the first book of the Faerie Queene-the young need to be warned to keep a prudent distance lest they be harmed by the beast or the 'dragonettes, his fruitfull seede' that may still linger in some hidden nest within the dragon's womb.

The contributions include some classic pieces from prior-generation, distinguished commentators such as René Wellek and M. H. Abrams as well as very recent ones, some written for this volume. There is a little shrillness here and there, but by and large these are not so much 'culture war' attacks as they are substantive criticisms of very real issues, such as Derrida's actual knowledge of modern linguistics or the accuracy of his reading of Saussure. Theory is notorious for its politicization of the academy and it is important to have thoughtful commentators such as Alan Sokal, Russell Jacoby, Todd Gitlin, and Noam Chomsky, whose opposition to aspects of Theory cannot be attributed to their political alignments. Ad hominem smears are common weapons in the Theory arsenal and the editors have sought to immunize themselves against such attacks by including the works of individuals whose credentials, prior associations, and personal body of work cannot be attacked as easily as, e.g.
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57 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Graham H. Seibert TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
It includes articles from a goodly number of professors still willing to think. Noam Chomsky is a surprising entry.

I'm a Slightly Order Guy (white, straight... totally out of fashion) who was flattened by a couple of feminist profs upon returning to campus last year. Michel who? I read Foucault, Derrida and Rorty to try to make sense of it all. It didn't. A high school friend of mine, a prof who fled to Canada to dodge the draft, and certainly no conservative, informed me that I was encountering a social phenomenon; philosophy had little to do with it, and recommended two excellent books: "Literature Lost" and this.

"Literature Lost" is an easier read, and benefits from the topical organization that a single author can provide. "Theory's Empire" is among other things a celebration of the English language. The authors are so literate! It also provides a wonderful diversity of perspectives with regard to literary theory, political correctness, and the trends and motivations that have driven so many college departments so far from their stated objectives of unbiased research, intellectual curiousity and open debate.

Here's the first page of one of the delicious articles, "The Cant of Identity" by Todd Gitlin:

"THE MORE VOCIFEROUSLY a term is trumpeted in public, the more contestable it is under scrutiny. The automatic recourse to a slogan, as if it were tantamount to a value or an argument, is frequently a measure of the need to suppress a difficulty or a vagueness underneath. Cant is the hardening of the aura around a concept. Cant automates thought, substitutes for deeper assessments, creates the illusion of firmness where there are only intricacies, freezes a fluid reality.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on February 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
As one long away from the Academy I have listened through the years with a mixture of dread and amusement at the tales of 'politically correct' professors promoting their agendas at the expense of individual freedom of thought and response. In an outstanding review of this present work Peter Berkowitz maintains that the 'Theory' business in the realm of Literature has worked to undermine two basic Western principles, the first that of the faith in Reason. The second is the individual liberty of the reader to explore and find meaning within the text.

The Theorists with the Derrida, Foucalt, Lacan agendas have worked to 'organize ' the reading of Literature into Programmatic messages which we all are to subscribe to.

This present volume is a collection of writings which dissent from this kind of formulaic program. It contains works by many of the best literary critics which we have known from M.H.Abrams to Wayne Booth whose final essay is a call for a more honest and individual way of doing Literary Criticism.

Peter Berkowitz concludes his outstanding review with the following inspirational words.

"Whether university literature departments can become sources for the inspiration and cultivation of the love of literature is of concern on more than narrow educational grounds. To be sure, most students will have at most only a few courses over four short college years to study the literary treasures of the West and beyond. Their literature professors should not be permitted to rob them of this golden opportunity to read and revel in novels, plays, and poetry by force-feeding them instead indigestible abstractions, formulaic denunciations, and pretentious proclamations.
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