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Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism


Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

"Against Theory," the title essay in this volume, challenges the notion that literary theory has any real work to do, or any results to show. This challenge—issued by Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels in Critical Inquiry (8:4)—strikes some critics as scandalous, others as provocative and productive.

The argument is directed against both sides of the current debates in literary theory, criticizing theoretical "objectivists" like E. D. Hirsch, Jr., on the one hand, and proponents of indeterminacy like Paul de Man on the other. The attack is not just on a particular way of doing theory but on the entire project of literary theory. The challenge is not only to a way of thinking and writing but to a way of making a living.

The resulting controversy has drawn so much attention among literary critics that it has been collected in a single volume so that the debate can be followed from start to finish. This collection includes the essay "Against Theory," seven responses to it, and a rejoinder by Knapp and Michaels (originally published in Critical Inquiry 9:4); in addition, there are two new statements plus a final reply by Knapp and Michaels.

The debate chronicled in this volume raises the most fundamental issues in the theory of meaning and the practice of interpretation. Are Knapp and Michaels confronting literary theory with a new "pragmatic" form of theory? Or are they (as some of their respondents suggest) arguing for a new form of nihilism? "If it is a nihilism," writes editor W. J. T. Mitchell, "it is one that demands an answer, not easy polemical dismissal, one that calls for theory to clarify its claims, not to mystify them and the easy assurance of intellectual fashion and institutional authority." It is the intention of Against Theory to aid in that clarification.

About the Author

W. J. T. Mitchell is the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature, the Department of Art History, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is also coeditor of the journal Critical Inquiry.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Pragmatic Theory

Against Theory - Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels

Revisionary Madness: The Prospects of American Literary Theory at the Present Time - Daniel T. O'Hara

Against Theory? - E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

Toward Uncritical Practice - Jonathan Crewe

Truth or Consequences: On Being Against Theory - Steven Mailloux

Lost Authority: Non-sense, Skewed Meanings, and Intentionless Meanings - Hershel Parker

On the Theory of "Against Theory" - Adena Rosmarin

Intentionless Meaning - William C. Dowling

A Reply to Our Critics - Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels

Consequences - Stanley Fish

Philosophy without Principles - Richard Rorty

A Reply to Richard Rorty: What Is Pragmatism? - Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels

Product Details

Mitchell, W. J. Thomas
University of Chicago Press
Mitchell, W. J. Thomas
Mitchell, W. J. T.
Mitchell, W. J. Thomas
History, criticism and surveys
History and criticism
Semiotics & Theory
Knapp, Steven
Literature -- History and criticism.
Literary Criticism : General
Edition Description:
A Critical Inquiry Book
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
Professional and scholarly
9.01x6.03x.36 in. .48 lbs.

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Related Subjects

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Business » Management
Humanities » Literary Criticism » General
Humanities » Literary Criticism » Literary and Cultural Studies
Humanities » Philosophy » General

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