The relativity of theory

August 11, 1995

The arguments in "Sacred cows' herd instinct" (THES, July 21) were not helped by those touches of sensationalism. The author was a "former adherent" (addict? cult follower?) and remained "anonymous" (in case his or her knee caps were blown off by rabid critical theorists?).

It all smacked of those true confessions and, though entertaining in parts, this genre does not further the case against critical theory. The author sounds like a liberal humanist at bay.

A few years ago I was teaching early 20th-century American literature. The students, because of modularisation, came from different schools and years. While some had read the "classics" very few had an idea of the American canon. Yet they were supposed to "deconstruct" the canon.

Due to deadlines and other commitments the students had to race through the library looking for the critical can openers - books on theory. The result was depressing. They had not had time to enjoy reading the novels and nor were they able to understand the concepts and categories informing critical theory. Clearly something should be done. I think that it would help if students were taught the tradition and then given the opportunity to "deconstruct" it. If one wants to eat baked beans (contents/tradition) one does not start by digesting the can opener (critical theory).

STEPHEN PAIN

Norwich

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