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Rob Hughes

The Use of Theory: A perspective from within the American Academy

Any review of current literary criticism in the U.S. will suggest that theory has become a necessary parallel field of investigation for the critic there. However, the proper relation of theory to critical practice remains for us unsettled and unsettling, both intellectually and professionally. Accordingly, this presentation will pose some very general questions about the use of theory in literary criticism and the academy, and will also ask some very basic questions about the nature of theory and the task of the literary critic. My central claim will be that American critical culture has found theory both useful and necessary–but, I would say, only indirectly useful in textual criticism, and rarely, if ever, when used as a method. This claim will beg the further (and final) question of the nature of “use (fulness)” as a category of value in the field of literature and criticism.