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March 28, 2009

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Fashionable Nonsense

Speaking of the glossy magazine effect — who in the world is working as the official or unofficial publicist for the Darwinian literary critics? There’s another write-up of this non-phenomenon, this time in Newsweek. The writer, Jeremy McCarty, is appropriately critical, which is why I’m linking to it.

But let me reiterate — this stuff is nonsense, bad science and bad aesthetics. Only about ten relatively marginal people care about it, even if one of them happens to be Arts & Letters Daily /Philosophy and Literature editor Denis Dutton. Serious research on the relationship between psychology and aesthetics could be so good. This is not serious.

Why this half-baked not-quite-research program commands so much attention in academic and popular journalism instead of any one of a dozen honestly legitimate movements in contemporary literature and language studies will forever elude me.

Posted March 28, 2009 at 2:41 | Comments (5) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Learnin', Media Galaxy


So, erm... Let's assume, in a purely abstract manner, that you knew a guy who was in the fourth year of his English PhD but didn't actually know anything 'cause he was doing his degree in a really half-assed fashion... Where would you send this fictional person to learn some of these "dozen honestly legitimate movements in contemporary literature and language studies"? In theory, of course.

Oh, and if I had to guess why this Darwin crap gets so much play, I'd say it's because the idea that a 'science' might underlie - and therefore supersede - all this 'wishy-washy literary crap' is something that sells to the mainstream pretty well. I think it's that idea of a unitary code that can be prioritised over others that seems so appealing.

I would direct said half-assed PhD (as opposed to we fully-assed PhDs) to Critical Inquiry, Representations, October, and some of the other leading critical/theoretical journals in the field. It's also worth doing a survey of what's getting published by academic presses.

I put forth the figure of a dozen, but on the top of my head, I can think of six major subfields in literary studies that intersect with science/empiricism that handle that intersection in a much better way than DLC:

disability studies
history of the book
actor-network theory
theories of affect
material culture
law and literature

I'm pretty partial to media, film, and literature myself. But wouldn't it be nice if there were a halfway decent popular explanation of queer theory, postcolonial studies, post-cold war studies, or brilliant superstar weirdos like Slavoj Zizek, Giorgio Agamben, or Friedrich Kittler? Come on. Honestly. Just try.

Thank you. That's actually very useful. I can't tell if that last bit of your comment was you suggesting I should just haul my ass to Wikipedia, but I'm going to be naive and pretend like it wasn't.

No, not at all! I actually think there ought to be, say, a 60 Minutes report or Wired article about someone like Friedrich Kittler.

My anger/sarcasm is directed to the lazy-ass guys at the Chronicle and Newsweek, not you, my fellow grub.

I actually think Astra Taylor's documentary Zizek! is one of the best introductions to contemporary literary theory. Which is not, at all, synonymous with literary studies.

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