Thoughtless theorising

February 13, 1998

IS Catherine Belsey sending herself up? Her article (THES, January 30) on literary theory contains the following: "Young lecturers take it for granted" and "It must gall senior academics to be upstaged by colleagues half their age, who reproduce the vocabulary of theory without thinking about it and then grab attention at conferences".

Without thinking, they take theory for granted. What has happened to the old academic imperative to think critically? How are these young zealots so different from all those "white, patrician and patriarchal" figures Belsey mocks who, presumably, took patriarchy for granted without thinking about it.

I note too that for all her heavy reliance on a romantic, untheorised, young/old, junior/senior binary opposition, Belsey is a professor. Presumably she hires and fires, puts students in degree boxes and generally carries out those radically subversive activities professors are famous for.

There are of course plenty of people out there who think critically about theory including Gary Day, Edward Said, Sara Mills, Valentine Cunningham, Terry Eagleton, Mark Turner and Joseph Carroll, but you would not guess it from Belsey's incredibly smug self-congratulation.

Malcolm Povey. Carbery Avenue. Southbourne. Bournemouth

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