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Theory in chaos

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All the stranger, then, that, according to Eagleton, "cultural theory as we have it promises to grapple with some fundamental problems, but on the whole fails to deliver." Eagleton now accuses theory of toying with esoterica while ignoring the real issues of life dealt with by literature.

Specifically, says theory's reformed bad boy, "[theory] has been shamefaced about morality and metaphysics, embarrassed about love, biology, religion and revolution, largely silent about evil..." And that, as Eagleton says, "is rather a large slice of human existence to fall down on."

But if theory is so profoundly flawed in its inability to address the ideas and emotions that not only make us individual but also allow us to marry, build communities, and undertake the countless transactions that would be impossible without basic shared assumptions, how did it ever become so popular in the first place? How did the notion that There Is No Truth become The Truth?

Postmodern literary theory is rooted in mid-century European philosophy, though it didn't begin to catch on in America until the late '60s; the Johns Hopkins University conference on "The Language of Criticism and the Sciences of Man" which featured Jacques Derrida and other master theoreticians took place in 1966 and is generally regarded as the theoretical equivalent of the Pilgrims' landing at Plymouth Rock.

These were, of course, revolutionary times: The initial phase of the civil rights struggle was peaking, and serious opposition to the Vietnam war was getting underway. College students were chucking out their parents' ideas about race, class, patriotism, sex, music, and recreational drugs the way they might toss a faulty toaster oven out an open dorm window: If it doesn't work, ditch it.

Theory played right into this mind- set; it challenged lazy notions about what's right and what isn't and brought fresh air into a classroom full of mildewed literary practices.

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