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Bookmarks FIRE IS HOT. HUNGER IS BAD. BABIES ARE GOOD. I write from the standpoint of mid-career, having been working for about twenty years at aesthetics, philosophy, and (voice lowering to a self-conscious mumble) literary theory. In that time deconstruction has taken hold in literary studies and more recendy gone into decline. Despite events in Eastern Europe, varieties of "intellectual" Marxism continue to cast their shadow, and have influenced die steep rise of feminism (or feminisms) in critical studies, especially the synthesized marxo-feminism which wants to see women replace workers as the oppressed class. Wittgenstein's reputation is still intact, but Freud is fading, and expect the same with minor figures such as Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, and Baudrillard. While Heidegger and the ghost of Being still haunt many a mind, Paul de Man's stock has taken a dive. Charlatans such as Althusser continue to attract earnest folk (including some of my dearest friends) who mistake obscurity for depth. However, since Althusser murdered his wife—an act of purest jouissance—and actually confessed to intellectual fraudulence in his posthumously published autobiography, he may yet become an awkward source to cite. So where are we going? What's next? I recendy saw the CV of an exceptionally bright young academic who listed among her specialties "film anti-theory, especially of an End-of-Second-Semiology/Death-ofGrand -Theory sort." She also said she was interested in writing on postmodernism, "recognizing how much of the postmodernism literature is basically only a rehash of familiar poststructuralist/deconstructionist themes." Quite so about postmodernism, but all diose endof /anti/death topics are queer specialties for a scholar setting out in academic life. Imagine a young physicistwho specialized in the death of Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 199-210 200Philosophy and Literature Bohr, or even a psychologist who was a what's-wrong-with-behaviorism expert. The only analogue I can think of in the natural sciences is the creationists, who specialize in the death of Darwin, but who'd want to emulate them? Which brings me to a question: were I beginning an academic career in die humanities today, in what direction would I head? First, I'd find an area that has facts, lots oflitde or big facts, interesting or trivial facts. Part ofwhat has been wrong with the textualization ofeverything is that too much writing in the humanities has become dieory-driven rather dian fact-driven. Of course, the obsessives of universal textuality are familiar with the objection, and predictably respond that all writing is really theory-driven, that the call for a factual basis for theory is so much ideology, and besides diere are no "facts," etc., etc. We've heard it all, but the century is nearly over and this line is going stale. Next, I think I'd look for an area where it's possible to carry out experiments. Experimental theory is practically oxymoronic, and experimental criticism is uncommon, but so much the worse for criticism. The experiments ofpsychologists usuallyjust prove the obvious, butjust occasionally they tell you something you hadn't known before, and in any event, designing a good experiment can in itself help to clarify exacdy what an issue is. Furthermore, trying to put a hypothesis to experimental test can have one particularly welcome byproduct: it can help us to put ideological prejudgments in tiieir place. Ifa disagreeable multinational drug company claims it has a cure for, say, river blindness, and double-blind experiments show that the drug actually works, we will not deny the medicine to people in Sierra Leone. In medicine, politics cannot determine the outcome of an adequately designed double-blind clinical trial, which is reassuring for people who like their theory tethered to reality. If aesthetics had such robust procedures, some of its resident ideological mantras would be revealed as die empty vapors they are. It's not too wild to imagine it. In philosophy, examples and especially counterexamples are die diought-experiments which at their best keep discourse from sinking into nonsense. This goes for philosophical aesthetics as well, where there is probably even more potential than in odier dieoretical fields for carrying out experimental procedures beyond merely...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 199-210
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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