Thursday, June 14, 2012

Why did Critical Theory take over in the U.S.?

My theory is that the unholy alliance of literary theory with philosophy came about because of the self-immolation of straight left politics in the mid to late '70s through the firestorm of Maoism and Stalinism. After all that passed and the Reagan reaction kicked in, politics on the academic level was not a place where large scale radicalism could really exist in the way it had in the '70s. But literature was left intact, and not only was literature  a viable place for discussion of politics, but the exclusion of women and people of color from the literary tradition, along with the pseudo-sociological information that can be gotten from fictional texts, made literature an especially good, although  seconday, environment for radical political discussion.

Once the '80s were over, not just literally but metaphorically through Clinton taking office, literary critics were able to step into the breach in a way that their political counterparts were not able to. It  took several more years for left politicos to regroup, basing themselves on the non-authoritarian politics that had evolved in the late eighties and early nineties.  So, strangely enough, these lit crit folks, who had little training in actual politics, who had litttle understanding of leftist history  outside of their own theoretical background, and who did no actual sociological studies, carried the field as the defining force in the political and elite cultural avant-garde, at least for educated liberal folks.

That said, we're at a place where we no longer have to depend on secondary, substitute, venues, for political discussions, and using literature and literary theory as a proxy, is a terrible way to go about doing what could be done using good 'old political philosophy and political science.

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