- Paperback: 736 pages
- Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 20, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0231134177
- ISBN-13: 978-0231134170
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,234,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Theory's Empire: An Anthology of Dissent
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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)
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. (Choice)
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)
This iconoclastic collection is an excellent companion to current anthologies of literary theory, which have embraced an uncritical stance toward Theory and its practitioners. Written by nearly fifty prominent scholars, the essays in Theory's Empire question the ideas, catchphrases, and excesses that have let Theory congeal into a predictable orthodoxy. More than just a critique, however, this collection provides readers with effective tools to redeem the study of literature, restore reason to our intellectual life, and redefine the role and place of Theory in the academy.
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This "necessary suspicion" should also be focused on the method of examination itself, and that's what this book is all about. It encourages students to be as skeptical, suspicious, and reflective about Theory itself, its methods and champions, as Theory is about the world at large.
While Theory, in the form of the Innocent Villager, asks "Is the Emperor wearing any clothes at all?", Theory's Empire asks "Is that really an Innocent Villager in the crowd, or just a disaffected, frustrated, or hostile...neo-Marxist...neo-Freudian...Queer or Gender Theorist..."present-ist"... or other special pleader of the literary and cultural community?"
These essays will be welcome and enjoyable reading for anyone who has taken a Theory course or attempted self-study in the field (whether s/he thinks s/he thoroughly understands or totally doesn't get it). They should be Required Reading for all enthusiastic proponents of Theory who otherwise may never be exposed to "a dose of their own medicine" in the form of probing, to-the-point interrogation.
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., a noticeably conservative, non-academic such as Roger Kimball. The price we pay for this is the absence of pieces by such delicious combatants as Camille Paglia, but given the stakes we pay it.
Since this is an anthology of dissent there is more emphasis on the sins and shortcomings of the dying tyrant than on constructive plans for the future, but there are some such plans here and they are interesting and suggestive. For all the talk of popular culture within "cultural studies" it is often so narrow and formulaic in its approach that one is grateful for a piece like Marjorie Perloff's which discusses, among other things, the robust persistence of interest in traditional writers and traditional methods exhibited in actual popular culture on the internet.
Nearly every essay is clear and accessible and some (Crews's, e.g.) rise to the level of masterpieces. It is too early to predict the ultimate importance of this collection, but the blog buzz is intense at this point. I do not think it is an overstatement to suggest that it should be read by every practitioner within the humanities and every interested observer who has followed the decline of the humanities and wondered-in the face of the constant contradictions, enormities, self-defeating absurdities and, above all, the endless, dull predictabilities-of Theory how such a collection of ideas and attitudes could ever achieve prominence in the face of evidence, logic, and above all, common sense. It is very reassuring to hear Chomsky say, in effect, that he is at a similar loss and to point out that Theory has never successfully proposed a workable alternative to what can be termed, in shorthand, rationality and the scientific method.
The first kind specially selects books that lend themselves to race/ gender/ post-imperialist/ queer analysis and the second kind selects books that deal with love, morality, good and evil, heroism, cowardice, duty and mostly male/ female relationships.
There is no doubt about which type of reading the public prefers, but as this excellent book makes clear Western university literature departments are really engaged in a cult like political project rather than anything resembling genuine literary criticism. The various authors show the totalitarian nature of the race/ gender/ post-imperialist/ queer (RGIQ) project which functions in a similar way to other totalitarian projects such as Islamic Fundamentalism or Marxism in taking for granted their monopoly on the truth and ruthlessly suppressing dissent.
The reader can also see the roots of the RGIQ project in the Frankfurt School with its explicit aim of destroying ("deconstructing") the foundations of Western society. Adorno, Marcuse et.al will be familiar to leftist American university academics but maybe less so to Amazon top 25 book reviewers.
So overall a necessary and worthwhile book explaining what is really going on within the RGIQ Political Correctness movement and showing that unfortunately literary criticism has become just another agitprop tool to further their aims.