In the third installment of his coverage of this year's Modern Language Association convention, Nick Gillespie notes that "it's been years -- decades even -- since a major new way of thinking about literature has really taken the academic world by storm.." I can't help wondering why we need a new way of thinking about literature. A sound way would seem to suffice.
A young friend of mine has just returned from a semester abroad studying literary theory. She found it convoluted, dull and largely irrelevant and dubious -- of course she has spent several years earning her living by writing. Practical experience often leaves one skeptical of theoretical formulations.
Gillespie is a lot more sympathetic to the goings on at the MLA convention than, I confess, I would be. I regard arguments grounded in "infantile sexual experiences," for example, as fundamentally unpersuasive, given that we can know nothing for sure about such, infants being unable to discuss or record any of their experiences. As for evolution -- which also figures in a good bit of this literary theorizing -- I have a few questions: Can Hitler be explained by means of natural selection? Can war? If 99 percent of all species known to have existed are extinct, isn't extinction nature's way, and why should we care if another species bites the dust? If humans have evolved into a species that exploits the environment, what's wrong with that? What's wrong with anything, in fact, if it's a product of evolution?