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Pedagogy 3.3 (2003) 451-457

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Theory without Method, Criticism without Voice

Marshall Brown

[Works Cited]

The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Edited by Vincent B. Leitch et al. New York: Norton, 2001.

Probably no one will ever read this book through. Certainly not I. I read the table of contents, the twenty-seven-page general introduction, and the 140 individual author introductions, ranging from two to seven pages. (The longest are for Lacan and Derrida.) Only a reviewer will read the book that way. Consequently, a reviewer's report on or evaluation of the reading experience can only indirectly project how the book will be used.

The first impression is overwhelmingly positive. The selections are well chosen, the introductions and bibliographies informative and authoritative. Sure, there are distortions. The ninety-eight dead authors (ninety men and eight women) do not include Bachelard, Blanchot, Bloch, Boethius, Boileau, Cicero, Croce, Diderot, Dilthey, Empson, Gadamer, Goethe, Herder, Humboldt, Langer, Luhmann, Ortega, Paz, Ricoeur, Rousseau, either Schlegel, Schopenhauer, Shklovsky, Spitzer, Taine. Almost without exception, the selections come from formal theoretical books and essays; there are no letters or other private writings (unless Dante's letter to Can Grande and Gramsci's Prison Notebooks count), only one excerpt from a novel (Rasselas), genuine paratexts only by Behn (a curious choice), poems only by Horace (in prose [End Page 451] translation) and Pope. Of the 148 authors (counting collaborators separately), 80 write or wrote in English (49 in the United States, some of them foreign-born; 31 in the United Kingdom or elsewhere), 28 in French, 18 in German, 6 in Italian, 3 in Russian, 5 in Greek, 7 in Latin, 1 (Maimonides) in Arabic. Startlingly, there is not a single text originally written in Spanish, and only Gramsci represents Italian culture since Vico. There are fourteen black authors (three of them coauthors of a single piece), two Native Americans, two from India, one Arab (Said), a single Hispanic (Anzaldúa), not even a single Asian American (as defined in the anthology's extensive bibliography of that field). Six write as lesbians on lesbianism, while gay studies is tenuously represented by portions of the Foucault reading and by Sedgwick; gay men are also poorly represented in the bibliography devoted to gay and lesbian criticism and queer theory, with even such towering figures as Bersani and Goldberg unmentioned. The last twenty-one authors are all Anglophone, and of these all but Mulvey and Eagleton have careers in the United States. Among related fields, history is slighted. The introduction to the meager Greenblatt selection claims that "as literary critics have become more familiar with [the New Historical] paradigm, they have grown accustomed to delving as deeply into archives as historians" (2251), but the discipline is represented only by Hayden White, who now teaches in a literature department, and the introductions repeatedly acknowledge New Historicism without successfully defining its aims, let alone its procedures. ("The New Historicist . . . examines how particular texts are addressed to other texts, other discursive orders, in the wider culture. . . . the text is a dynamic interweaving of multiple strands" [2250], and so forth.) As to facts, occasionally a date slips (the Critique of Practical Reason appeared in 1788, not 1785) or a foreign word is misinterpreted (Lessing's "prägnanter Augenblick" does not come from the German prägen but is indeed cognate with pregnant; sentimental does translate Schiller's sentimentalisch, even if the translator's choice of reflective perhaps interprets it more helpfully); Boccaccio's novel Fiammetta is misidentified as a poem; two deceased authors (Jauss and Bourdieu) appear in the table of contents as living. While such quibbling can be entertaining, this still appears to be a selection not stumbled into by bland committee vote but thoughtfully chosen by individuals with commitments balanced by broad knowledge. Overall, the arduous editorial work is performed to an impressively high standard.

Yet, regretfully, I have to say that it is not a book I would willingly adopt, and not only because the xxxviii + 2,624 pages are physically unwieldy. I hoped to use the occasion of reviewing it to reach...


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