Cultural Revolutions

In Thrall

American professors of literature (or a large number of them) have been in thrall for some time to a body of "literary theory" exported from Europe in the late 60's. The basic masters are Marx and Freud, followed by de Saussure and Levi-Strauss, and the developers of this property now most in vogue seem to be the philosopher Derrida and the psychoanalyst Lacan; but as time passes it appears that the abiding fascination for the Americans is with Freud and Marx themselves. By now the federated squadrons of Marxists, neo-Freudians, deconstructionists, and Lacanians, with their close allies the feminists and the "new historicists" are largely in control of the academic centers of cultural tradition in this country, and their professed aim is to dismantle the institutions.

Nonacademic Americans can have no conception of the scale of this invasion, but a pair of university press catalogs that dropped into the mail the other day will give a hint. Between them, Johns Hopkins and Cornell University presses are currently listing some 120 books on "literary theory," an outlay to the library that buys all of them for about $2,500 at discounted prices. Obviously, no individual academic can either afford them or, in any real sense of the word, read them. This is not just a question of the time involved. Most of them are written in a turgid, hermetic style that is intentionally unreadable.

It is hard...

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