Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Don’t Mention the War

Sarapen and I were just discussing the other day our mutually vague relationship to the war over “theory” that periodically ebbs and flows across various blogs we lurk. I commented that it made me feel somewhat of an inadequate ethnographer, that I couldn’t seem to get a better feel for this dispute – a comment that already suggests that I experience myself in a strange side-on relationship to this discussion, such that I have a bit of trouble imagining how I’d intervene in any way other than ethnographically.

The latest iteration of the debate, for anyone who’d like to follow, was, as far as I can tell, initiated by John Holbo’s post at The Valve, which was then picked up by Adam Kotsko at The Weblog, and in a different way by Jodi Dean at Long Sunday (cross-posted to I Cite). I don’t intend here to comment on these (quite elaborate and extended) discussions, but instead to point to what seem, to me, to be some interesting conversational eddies operating to the side of the main fray. I wanted particularly to draw attention to:

Joseph Kugelmass’ contribution at The Valve, which sets itself the quite ambitious – but important – goal of addressing the questions:

why I think the debate has taken its current form, what it means to do theory while fully aware that one is doing so, and how all this relates to blogging and the blogosphere ideal of good faith

And Sinthome’s analysis at Larval Subjects, which asks how these debates might refract themes related to the assertion of institutional power, and whether this might encourage a tendency to reach for an engagement with overarching catch-all categories, rather than with the substantive arguments of individual theorists. Sinthome’s post ends with a challenge I see as particularly important in any debate over theoretical systems:

However, as a more pressing matter, what I can’t figure out is what alternative there might be to Theory. If the critics of Theory wish to convince me that they occupy a superior position they’re going to have to offer me something in return, some sort of option or some sort of alternative. All of my analytic training– and by this I mean Anglo-American philosophy –teaches me that there is no such thing as a non-theory laden perspective. This is the lesson to be drawn from the likes of Sellars. What, then, is this non-theory laden perspective of which these critics seem to be speaking?

At the moment, my schedule really doesn’t allow me to comment in any substantive way on the overarching debate, but I thought it was at least worthwhile pointing to these pieces in particular for the productive questions they pose and the way in which they seek to slice through the major stakes in the cross-blog discussion.

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