Ten Lessons in Theory: An Introduction to Theoretical Writing
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An introduction to literary theory unlike any other, Ten Lessons in Theory engages its readers with three fundamental premises. The first premise is that a genuinely productive understanding of theory depends upon a considerably more sustained encounter with the foundational writings of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud than any reader is likely to get from the introductions to theory that are currently available. The second premise involves what Fredric Jameson describes as "the conviction that of all the writing called theoretical, Lacan's is the richest." Entertaining this conviction, the book pays more (and more careful) attention to the richness of Lacan's writing than does any other introduction to literary theory. The third and most distinctive premise of the book is that literary theory isn't simply theory "about" literature, but that theory fundamentally is literature, after all.
Ten Lessons in Theory argues, and even demonstrates, that "theoretical writing" is nothing if not a specific genre of "creative writing," a particular way of engaging in the art of the sentence, the art of making sentences that make trouble-sentences that make, or desire to make, radical changes in the very fabric of social reality.
As its title indicates, the book proceeds in the form of ten "lessons," each based on an axiomatic sentence selected from the canon of theoretical writing. Each lesson works by creatively unpacking its featured sentence and exploring the sentence's conditions of possibility and most radical implications. In the course of exploring the conditions and consequences of these troubling sentences, the ten lessons work and play together to articulate the most basic assumptions and motivations supporting theoretical writing, from its earliest stirrings to its most current turbulences.
Provided in each lesson
From the culture industry to the society of the spectacle: Critical theory and the situationist international, in No Social Science without Critical Theory (Current Perspectives in Social Theory, Volume 25)
(Althusser 1971: 205). If we can swallow this queerly materialist description, then we might begin to digest the radical proposition that humanness itself, while a conceivably innate or hard-wired potential, is actually only ever a hard-scrabble acquisition, that we are each born as inadequate little animals, rough beasts that must be turned into human children through laborious linguistic processes of socialization. Like the world that must always be made to mean, we ourselves must always be
excrement is excrement”? It’s hard to imagine that Mr Tuttle’s pressing those little words out of his uncanny hole would have made Lauren or DeLillo or Keats or any lover of beauty and truth radiantly happy. So, yeah, maybe it’s a real shame, on the one hand, that the word for moonlight can never really be moonlight, that we can’t just utter this enchanting word and be instantly bathed in lovely lunar lucidity. But on the other hand, maybe it’s a relatively good thing that you can ask for a
“antiphysically,” precisely by virtue of not being real, by never quite failing to negate the real. Along the lines of Lacan’s assertion that “the symbol first manifests itself as the killing of the thing” (1966d/2006: 262), this lesson posits a certain murderous or prohibitory “no to the real thing” as any noun’s structural condition of possibility. The lesson rehearses several elementary examples to illustrate the “antiphysical” point (the word “elephant” can’t really be an elephant, the word
overtly and physically to force them, without having to march them off at gunpoint to labor camps or factories or offices or universities), ideology works to “make” contingent conditions appear necessary, to reproduce or represent contingencies as necessities, securing the reproduction of the conditions of production by repre senting the contingent as eternal. The dominant effect of this reproduction/ representation is to render alternative working conditions unrepresentable, even unimaginable,
Pakistanis). But let’s not fail to mention a third, “aesthetic” or “stylistic” factor in the longstanding resentment against theory—the obstreperous complaints about the sheer ugliness of theoretical writing, its abrasively off-putting opacity, its outrageous dependence on “specialized terminology,” on bloated and clunky “in-group jargon,” cumbersome “critical keywords” such as “defamiliarization” and “reification” that not only sound unlovely to belletristic ears but refuse all nimble