Selected Papers from the IAUPE Malta Conference in 2010
The Play and Place of Literary Theory: Jürgen Schlaeger
The Play and Place of Literary Theory Jürgen Schlaeger Humboldt-University of Berlin „Theories are analytical tools for understanding and explaining a given subject matter.” This dictionary definition sounds straightforward and innocuous enough. But theories can be and do many other things as well. The choice of a particular theory always means entering a certain kind of relationship with one’s object. Ideally, theories should leave their objects untouched, should look at it, however closely, from the outside, not interfere with it in the act of analysis. But as we all know, this never happens and is even logically impossible. Theorizing is, after all, also, and in the humanities primarily so, one of the major tools minds have developed to create order in their own complex cognitive and emotional processes and structures. It is basically and fundamentally a self-centred affair and, haven’t we all experienced it, turning inward is a very difficult thing to do objectively. So, whatever our analytical minds are up to when they are doing theory, they are definitely not merely concerned with something out there. This is one of the reasons why the relationships, theoretical endeavours in our fields enter in their effort to analyse and explain, are often so similar to human rela- tionships: theories can thus dominate, efface, suppress, caress, stifle, encourage, foster, exploit or brainwash the objects of their attention. The relationship can be intimate or distanced, symbiotic or parasitical, custodial or consuming. As far as literary theory is concerned we have seen all...
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