NEW BOOK: In my years of teaching literary theory, it has never ceased to amaze me that students find it difficult to understand that – even though a futile act – we still have the obligation to go against myths of self-deception, false principles in the name of whose war is waged, and crass stupidity that is always murderous in its intent. I've published The Way of the Sign as a way of keeping it simple. As a way of suggesting that we must situate ourselves as far away as possible from anything that presents itself as the keeper of traditional values, or as suspicious of new developments. Traditionalists have no imagination, that's why they are called traditionalists. We must go against their idea that everything can be sold and bought; that everything is designed and packaged to cater to our basic needs for sex, security, and soul-searching. These needs do not manifest themselves as empty bubbles into which we can throw our clichés and idiotic 'concrete' solutions. Literary, visual, and cultural theories make us see what is wrong with ventriloquizing what we think others want to hear. They make us see what is wrong with speaking from a place that is devoid of inner strength and conviction.

While I haven't proposed any new idea – in this context, I find the old ones better than any – I ask simple questions. In this sense, The Way of the Sign is a book about extraction, about reducing methods of inquiry to the bare bones. It guides students through 10 schools of theory and criticism. The focus is on ‘asking’ each theory to give its best in the simplest way, by making us see what is at stake and how we might respond to it. In simple Socratic dialogue, I invent scenarios: ‘What is happening?’ Deconstruction asks. And we answer with it: ‘We are buying a mythology.’ ‘How does it make us feel?’ ‘Dumb.’ ‘What is happening?’ Marxism asks. And we answer with it: ‘The rich cheat us.’ ‘How does it make us feel?’ ‘Angry’. ‘What is happening?’ Feminism asks. And we answer with it: ‘Nobody sees us.’ ‘How does it make us feel?’ ‘Invisible.’

By posing such simple questions, I try to bring out the complexity of the ideas formulated in different approaches to texts, and the joy at discovering that some theories are mighty simple, and therefore also beautiful. The book’s aim is thus to contribute to every student’s ‘aha’ experience. Make it richer, so that they might fall in love with theory, and consider that if decisions need to be made at all – about what to think or what is best – then they should be about never ceasing to ask questions. Or consider that it is not our actions that are important, but how we receive the gift of joy. As with Mary Oliver:

“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”



Popular Posts