In defence of theory

November 14, 1997

WHILE not unsympathetic to some of the view's expressed by Raymond Tallis on the life and work of Jacques Lacan (THES, October 31) it was predictable that your paper would ask Tallis to review Elisabeth Roudinesco's biography, granted that Tallis's reputation rests on a consistent debunking of contemporary theory.

Despite the fact that Freud has been exposed as a scientific charlatan in recent years no one can dispute the significant influence of Freud beyond the analyst's couch. It is difficult to say whether the same will be said of Lacan but certainly Michel Foucault predicted that in the future this century would be thought of as "Deleuzian" given the insights of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. The influence of Lacan and Deleuze (despite a quibbling recent review of his interviews in The THES) seem able to transcend the attacks by hacks.

What is substantially more worrying was Tallis's opening comment reiterating the oft-made claim of the "institutional fraud that goes under the name of 'Theory'". Oft-made because made out of ignorance of the many facets that constitute theory in the academy, and the necessity for dangerous theoretical thinking given the state of exhaustion at which other forms of analysis appear to have arrived.

In an era of ends - of academic freedom?, of scholasticism? let alone politics - the outposts of radical thinking in the academy are at least a sign of life amid the banal violence of managerialism. And if an engagement with De Sade, Nieztsche, Hiedegger, the German romantics or the French existentialists is a fraudulent activity then I, at least, despair of a newspaper purporting to offer intellectual support to beleaguered scholars throughout the academy - many of whom are theorists.

Christopher Stanley

Quintin Hogg senior research fellow in law and social theory University of Westminster

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