(re)Considering Theory

There was a rather amusing article in The New York Times a couple months ago, in which Rebecca Newberger Goldstein relates a comical tale expressing the tension between what she describes as philosophy and theory. Goldstein was a former professor of philosophy but is now a novelist. Her anecdote recalls the time when Theory began to drift into the other departments of the Humanities, including her own, whereupon her colleagues incredulously suspected it as a—hoax.

This sardonic piece does seem to capture a tension that, perhaps, we have all encountered in some way. Stories are delightful; the telling of stories, an art. Philosophy is concerned with truth (whatever that turns out to be)—but so is literature. So, where does theory fit in? While interdisciplinary studies are on the rise— and certainly have useful contributions to make—often times there are many negative reactions to having theory as the bridge on which, say, philosophy and literature can find a discourse. Between other departments in the Humanities, it has (so I’ve heard) had more success. One question that I am frequently tempted to ask (though I have been told that I am asking the wrong question [!]): what does Theory aim at?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of Teachers College, Columbia University or the Arts and Humanities Department.