Friday, May 22, 2009

Still against science

William Deresiewicz's naïve, humanist caricature of Theory in this long review in The Nation warns against any side-taking in his otherwise welcome attack on literary Darwinism. However, the reappearance of Jonathan Gottschall's comical or scandalous misconstual of Barthes' Death of the Author is enough to tip the balance. Apparently, in a forthcoming work, he "uses polling data to disprove the postmodern belief in 'the death of the author' by showing that writers really do have an effect on the way people react to their books." (I presume it is Deresiewicz adding the spurious "postmodern belief" label, which is ironic as Gottschall would concur). I wrote about this last year in Against science but realise it is fighting a losing battle. It reminds me of a passage in Sartre's Words:
At Saint Anne's Psychiatric Clinic a patient cried out in bed: "I'm a prince! Arrest the Grand Duke!". Someone went up to him and whispered in his ear: "Blow your nose!" and he blew his nose. He was asked: "What's your occupation?". He answered quietly: "Shoemaker," and started shouting again.
Only I'm not sure of whom it reminds me.

Gottschall's ubiquity - I heard him speaking on BBC Radio 3 recently - is demoralising because there are more interesting thinkers writing about literature. For instance, Stephen Mulhall in The Wounded Animal. Yet this example reveals the problem. Unlike the books by Dutton, Boyd and Gottschall reviewed here, it doesn't have the eye for the main chance in a thought-culture struggling with the remove of literature. Deresiewicz says that until "the literary academy is willing to stand up in public and defend that mission without apology, it will never find its way out of the maze." Except, if it is writing we're talking about - writing in itself - it is the maze that fascinates.


  1. Anonymous10:22 pm

    The only thing more seductive then theory is the critique of theory.

  2. Where is the critique in Drearywits' review? I don't even care for Foucault, Lacan etc. but I know it's not as simple as he portrays it.

  3. Anonymous2:24 am

    Critique...broadly defined.



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