Theory as Genre (Deadline: 1st November 2013)

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American Comparative Literature Association, NYU
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Theory as Genre

Seminar Organizer(s):

Bhavya Tiwari (The University of Texas at Austin), Thomas Beebee (Penn State University)

Calvin Thomas claims that ‘literary theory’ isn’t “simply highfalutin speculation ‘about’ literature […T]heory fundamentally is literature, after all—something worth reading, a genre of writing” (xii). The rationale for treating Theory as a genre with its own history was given by the French theorist Roland Barthes, who declared in his autobiography that if he had been born in the 19th century he would have been a novelist – born in the early 20th, however, and coming of age when the novel had long spent its force as a vehicle of social analysis, he turned to the genre that had taken up where the novel left off – Theory. But the history of this genre has yet to be written. In treating Theory (a.k.a. “Big-T” or “Grand” theory) as a genre of writing, this seminar makes several critical interventions: one is to focus attention on Theory as a writing practice, subject to the laws of genre: like the novel, Theory is a world genre ripe for comparative treatment and attention to issues of diffusion, translation and tradaptation. The second move is to separate the genre known as Theory from the concept of theory. The latter, as a concept, does not die. Theorizing is still going on today – what has died is the specific formal embodiment of that intellectual process of self-reflection in a particular literary form. Finally, if Theory is a literary genre to be enjoyed, then we must seek to discover the pleasure that is unique to it.

SEMINAR KEYWORDS: Theory, Literary Theory, Genre, Comparative Literature, World Literature, Empire, Vernacular Theory, Readers, Pleasure, Translation, Tradaptation.

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