So I've been preparing the fall class on interdisciplinary arts and critical theory, which means I have to dive in to the theory part this week. Each time I do this, my distaste grows. And here are just a few reasons why this is so:
1. Any good reader/listener/observer already "does theory" like any good writer already "does composition". Somewhere along the line, the means to the end should become less your focus than the end itself. If it doesn't, you're in the wrong line of work.
2. Theory encourages cursory approaches to artwork. Why read Mann or attend Rigoletto when you already know that all the artists were doing was contradicting themselves, supporting a particularly vicious brand of capitalism, or finding an inventive way to oppress people? It's a given that culture involves oppression, but for god's sake, Heart of Darkness is not the same thing as a frickin' gulag, despite its racialist elements (and yes, observing these elements, which is what every theorist comes away with having read H. of. D, has become, in my opinion, kind of too obvious to mention, especially at the exclusion of anything else about the work). I've seen some of my best students transformed into jargon-spouting bores like werewolves under a bad moon.
3. We're in bad shape when the only things above suspicion are Marx, tenure, and other theorists. Suspect them, too.
4. Speaking of Marx, academic Marxism is a pitiful thing. 'Fess up. You want to be a Marxist, get out and help our beleaguered unions, goddamnit, instead of pontificating from the safety of the classroom where your audience is grade-obligated not to disagree. The university is a game preserve for any ideas left of center because you've sat on your asses and allowed the country to tumble into its natural state of right-wing extremism. Do something about the larger loony bin by venturing outside of school.
OK, I broke my 250-less rule mid-rant. Next time something amiable.