Remarks On “The Death Of The Author”

In 1967, French essayist and literary hypothesizer Roland G. Barthes¹ published The Death of the Author (La mort de l’auteur), which takes, as its central aim, the delegitimization of “the Author” (capitalization his) for the prioritization of “the reader,” a point arrived at by Barthes’ through his belief that textual signification reached a point of coalescence only through the reader, and not through the author (even though they are also readers).

The essay’s title (not so much its contents) has become a popular slogan, deployed in literary circles as de facto justification for narcissistic misinterpretation. Under its auspices, if an author(s) expresses something, directly or through their work(s), which a member of their readership dislikes, then, under the auspices of the “death of the author” that reader may declare the author(s) intention(s) void, henceforth, and instead, declare their own “reinterpretation(s)” the valid one(s), even if the passage(s) is/are clear in intent, or, is/are clarified directly by the author(s).

When one declares biographical information and authorial intention irrelevant to a textual fictive work, it is pertinent to ask why such persons read a particular author? Within the framework of “death of the author” theology, they’re all the same, merely another jumble of text which can be extrapolated any which way one pleases. Indeed, one can rightly ask: why read any fiction at all? Why not read a instruction manual or a signpost, which can then be “reinterpreted” so as to make it amenable to the reader’s hermetic and fragile sensibilities?

In the observation of this practice, what one witnesses is not merely the death of authorial intent, but the death of art as a distinctive practice, for art, in any classical sense, can no more exist without authorial intention, and its evaluation, than it can without an audience.

§

… literature is that neuter, that composite, that oblique into which every subject escapes, the trap where all identity is lost, beginning with the very identity of the body that writes. (Barthes, The Death of the Author)

The pronouncement is made after a digression on Sarrasine, a novella by Balzac concerning a man who falls in love with a castrato disguised as a female who the protagonist describes (obviously incorrectly) as a near-perfect distillation of womanhood. Barthes declares that, in such lines, it is impossible to tell who is speaking, the protagonist or Balzac or “universal wisdom” or “romantic psychology” (though all of these “voices” would, of necessity, be under the direction of Balzac’s, yet Barthes, for a reason never stated, classes them as if they were distinct persons), hence his reference to the ‘oblique’ nature of literature.

Literature is indeed a composite, but it is in no way an “oblique into which every subject escapes” (the subject of desire—for the author, the successful completion and warm reception of his creation—cannot, de jure, vanish into itself) nor a “trap where all identity is lost” for literary style is every bit as distinctive as a fingerprint (ie. stylometry). Barthes is correct insofar as he realizes that there can be multiple “voices” within a work, but this in no way invalidates the stewardship of the author or authors (as in a collaborative effort). Indeed, upon the topic, Barthes himself writes “Balzac, speaking of a castrato…” as if he already understands and accepts what he attempts to undermine—that there is but a singular guide (a master “voice”). That admission, itself, undermines the whole premise.

§

Probably this has always been the case: once an action is recounted, for intransitive ends, and no longer in order to act directly upon reality — that is, finally external to any function but the very exercise of the symbol — this disjunction occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters his own death, writing begins. (Barthes)

Intransitivity is a verb property (in distinction to transitivity). Intransitive ends, then, are those which exclude questions of what or whom, confining description instead to the where, when and how—already they are not “external to any function but the very exercise of the symbol.”

§

Nevertheless, the feeling about this phenomenon has been variable; in primitive societies, narrative is never undertaken by a person, but by a mediator, shaman or speaker, whose “performance” may be admired (that is, his mastery of the narrative code), but not his “genius”

Narrative is, at its point of origin, always undertaken by a person, regardless of the character or stage of development of the narrator’s society. The reason why those who performed ancestral narratives did not claim (creative narrative) genius is rather obvious, they did not create the stories they communicated, and knew that others would know it—one would not expect to hear a modern playwright adapting Macbeth to claim (creative narrative) “genius” in the enterprise, and if one did hear such a pronouncement, he or she would likely be swiftly reproached for it.

§

…it is logical that with regard to literature it should be positivism, resume and the result of capitalist ideology, which has accorded the greatest importance to the author’s “person” The author still rules in manuals of literary history, in biographies of writers, in magazine interviews, and even in the awareness of literary men, anxious to unite, by their private journals, their person and their work; the image of literature to be found in contemporary culture is tyrannically centered on the author…

His low opinion of authors is again clear in his encircling of person with quotation marks, as if the “person” of the author were merely an illusion, a view which is more elaborately expressed in Empire of Signs (1982), in which he speaks emphatically of undoing “our own reality” (page 6).

Returning to his essay—If one is speaking of literary history or biographies of writers then the writer should take center stage (particularly in the latter example). To say that “biographies of writers” should not be “centered on the author” is the same as saying that biographies shouldn’t exist. That, of course, does not mean one should not mention reader’s reactions and the change effected by the public reception of a text; consequently it may (or may not) be fair to criticize a historical (but not biographical) work concerning literature which sets out to cover a given period comprehensively, and yet focuses on an author (or set of authors) at the expense of all else.

§

Though the Author’s empire is still very powerful (recent criticism has often merely consolidated it), it is evident that for a long time now certain writers have attempted to topple it. In France, Mallarme² was doubtless the first to see and foresee in its full extent the necessity of substituting language itself for the man who hitherto was supposed to own it; for Mallarme, as for us, it is language which speaks, not the author: to write is to reach, through a preexisting impersonality — never to be confused with the castrating objectivity of the realistic novelist — that point where language alone acts, “performs,” and not “oneself”…

There is little to be said of this passage other than that Barthes is confused as to the topic of agency. He deploys “speaks” metaphorically, of course, and yet, to consider his example in the literal register proves clarifying—for language cannot act or perform of its own accord anymore than a organ can play itself or a candle kindle its own flame.

Barthes then digresses, at considerable length, on a number of writers, including the previously mentioned Mallarme, as well as Proust. I’ll not dwell upon these passages, as they are merely reiterations of his previously mentioned belief that “language… speaks, not the author,” to which one might sardonically reply, “It is the coconut which uses amphioctopus marginatus, not amphioctopus marginatus which uses the coconut.”

§

… linguistics has just furnished the destruction of the Author with a precious analytic instrument by showing that utterance in its entirety is a void process, which functions perfectly without requiring to be filled by the person of the interlocutors: linguistically, the author is never anything more than the man who writes, just as I is no more than the man who says I: language knows a “subject,” not a “person,” end this subject, void outside of the very utterance which defines it, suffices to make language “work,” that is, to exhaust it.

A void, in any literal sense, would be void of any ‘process’ One may talk all one likes about what rocks are like in the absence of sensing apparatuses to perceive them, but it doesn’t fundamentally matter, for there would then be nothing for the rocks to matter to. They would be, but they would not, could not, matter. The case is the same with regard to language. Language does not know a ‘subject.’ Language does not know. Language is not an agent.

§

The absence of the Author (with Brecht, we might speak here of a real ‘alienation:’ the Author diminishing like a tiny figure at the far end of the literary stage) is not only a historical fact or an act of writing: it utterly transforms the modern text (or — what is the same thing — the text is henceforth written and read so that in it, on every level, the Author absents himself). Time, first of all, is no longer the same. The Author, when we believe in him, is always conceived as the past of his own book: the book and the author take their places of their own accord on the same line, cast as a before and an after: the Author is supposed to feed the book — that is, he pre-exists it, thinks, suffers, lives for it; he maintains with his work the same relation of antecedence a father maintains with his child. Quite the contrary, the modern writer (scriptor) is born simultaneously with his text; he is in no way supplied with a being which precedes or transcends his writing, he is in no way the subject of which his book is the predicate; there is no other time than that of the utterance, and every text is eternally written here and now.

One can see how ironically authoritative Barthes takes his own absence of authority to be by declaring his baseless assertion to be “a historical fact.” This assertion of simultaneousness is clearly untrue, for the simple reason that the author must think of what is to be written before he or she writes.

§

This is because (or: it follows that) to write can no longer designate an operation of recording, of observing, of representing, of “painting” (as the Classic writers put it), but rather what the linguisticians, following the vocabulary of the Oxford school, call a performative, a rare verbal form (exclusively given to the first person and to the present), in which utterance has no other content than the act by which it is uttered… the modern writer, having buried the Author, can therefore no longer believe, according to the “pathos” of his predecessors, that his hand is too slow for his thought or his passion, and that in consequence, making a law out of necessity, he must accentuate this gap and endlessly “elaborate” his form; for him, on the contrary, his hand, detached from any voice, borne by a pure gesture of inscription (and not of expression), traces a field without origin — or which, at least, has no other origin than language itself, that is, the very thing which ceaselessly questions any origin.

If writing is, as Barthes asserts, “no longer… an operation of recording, of observing, of representing…” then he could in no way record, observe or represent any lack of representation and is saying that he can say nothing.

§

We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations, resulting from the thousand sources of culture. Like Bouvard and Pecuchet, those eternal copyists, both sublime and comical and whose profound absurdity precisely designates the truth of writing, the writer can only imitate a gesture forever anterior, never original; his only power is to combine the different kinds of writing, to oppose some by others, so as never to sustain himself by just one of them; if he wants to express himself, at least he should know that the internal “thing” he claims to “translate” is itself only a readymade dictionary whose words can be explained (defined) only by other words, and so on ad infinitum… Succeeding the Author, the writer no longer contains within himself passions, humors, sentiments, impressions, but that enormous dictionary, from which he derives a writing which can know no end or halt: life can only imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, a lost, infinitely remote imitation.

A text does consist of a line of words. That is all it consists of. Such a line may contain (and “release”) a single meaning (theological or otherwise) or a multiplicity of meanings; which it contains is dependent upon intention and the presentation and apperception thereof. Misinterpretation in no wise invalids this fact. For example, if an author writes a particular line with a single purpose, regardless of the interpretations of others, the originary meaning will always remain the same, that is to say, just as intended.

In his domain, the artist is absolute.

§

From this point he notes that since writing cannot be truly deciphered (since it can never mean anything definitively), literary criticism must also be done away with (curiously, he did not, after his essay’s completion, tender his resignation to the trade), along with god, reason, science and law.

… criticism (even “new criticism”) should be overthrown along with the Author.

… to refuse to arrest meaning is finally to refuse God and his hypostases, reason, science, the law.

The overthrown of criticism is a natural conclusion of the evacuation of meaning from authorship, and is just as mistaken for the same reasons. His railing against three hypostases in one ousia is shoehorned in suddenly, but isn’t wholly incorrect, for to refuse to “arrest meaning” is indeed to refuse reason, science and law, but it is not to refuse God, for one can easily apply reason, engage in science and construct and follow law, without any belief in providence whatsoever. All of this, however, is far afield of authorship and its supposed demise.

§

He then returns to Balzac, repeats the lines with which he opened his piece and concludes thusly,

… the true locus of writing is reading.

… a text is not in its origin, it is in its destination; but this destination can no longer be personal: the reader is a man without history, without biography, without psychology; he is only that someone who holds gathered into a single field all the paths of which the text is constituted. This is why it is absurd to hear the new writing condemned in the name of a humanism which hypocritically appoints itself the champion of the reader’s rights. The reader has never been the concern of classical criticism; for it, there is no other man in literature but the one who writes. We are now beginning to be the dupes no longer of such antiphrases, by which our society proudly champions precisely what it dismisses, ignores, smothers or destroys; we know that to restore to writing its future, we must reverse its myth: the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author.

One of the reasons why “the death of the author” has become so popular is because of the high regard it supposedly has for the reader, which is taken up as a rallying cry—Barthes and his acolytes striking out against supposed ivory tower art snobs—and yet, consider his opinion of the readers in this last passage. For Barthes, readers are “without biography” and “psychology” merely a vector for the transmission of signification. This is well in keeping with the rest of the article, but it is completely out of step with the contemporary valorizations of the “death of the author.” Further, not only does there not need to be any antipathic bifurcation between authors and readers, there cannot be, for that is to propose a waltz without a partner where the loner refuses to box-step and the music plays itself. Or as Lamos of Films Lie put it,

The death of the Author is also the inability to create, invent, or be original. It is the spinning out of control into the abyss of multiple meanings and inevitable meaninglessness.

A declaration nullified by its very pronouncement.

In closing, I am reminded of a quote by Simon Leys, who, in his essay The Imitation of Our Lord Don Quixote, wrote,

Literary critics do fulfil a very important role… but there seems to be a problem with much contemporary criticism, and especially with a certain type of academic literary criticism. One has the feeling that these critics do not really like literature—they do not enjoy reading. Worse even, if they were actually to enjoy a book, they would suspect it to be frivolous.


Sources

  1. Alan KcKee. (2003) Textual Analysis: A Beginner’s Guide. SAGE publications.
  2. Eric Wayne. (2018) “The Death of the Author” Debunked. Art & Crit.
  3. Gemma Khaicy. (2013) Why hackers should be afraid of how they write. The Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. Honore de Balzac. (1830) Sarrasine. Project Gutenberg (2010-2016).
  5. Jane Alison. (2019) Beyond the Narrative Arc. The Paris Review.
  6. James Wood. (2020) What is at Stake When We Write Literary Criticism?
  7. Joris-Karl Huysmans, translated by Keene Wallace. (1891 French; 1928 Eng.) Las-bas. Originally published by Tresse & Stock.
  8. Jeanne Willette. (2013) Roland Barthes: Structuralism. Art History Unstuffed.
  9. Joseph M. Pierre. (2015) Culturally sanctioned suicide: Euthanasia, seppuku and terrorist martyrdom. World Journal of Psychiatry.
  10. Lamos Ignoramos. (—) The Death of the Author: Roland Barthes and the Collapse of Meaning. Filmslie.
  11. Maddie Crum. (2016) ‘Fight Club’ Author Reflects On Violence & Masculinity, 20 Years Later. Huffington Post (USA).
  12. Michael Karlsberg. (2005) The Power of Discourse & The Discourse of Power: Pursuing Peace Through Discourse Intervention. International Journal of Peace Studies, volume 10, number 1.
  13. Pierre Haski. (2014) The Death of Simon Lays, Fierce Opponent of French Maoist Intellectuals. Not Bored (English Translation).
  14. Roland Barthes. (1982) Empire of Signs. Hill & Wang.
  15. Roland Barthes. (1967) The Death of the Author. English: Aspen, no. 5-6.
  16. Simon Leys. (2013) The Hall Of Uselessness: Collected Essays. The New York Review Of Books.
  17. T. S. Eliot. (1919) Tradition and the Individual Talent. The Egoist (later published in The Sacred Wood).
  18. Tulipsandmondays. (2014) A Case Against ‘Death of the Author’ Theory. Ididn’twantanyflowers.

Footnotes

¹ Roland Gerard Barthes was a literary critic and scholar of semiotics educated at the University of Paris and the author of numerous works including, Writing Degree Zero (1968), Empires of Signs (1983) and Criticism and Truth (1987).

² Etienne Mallarme (pen-name: Stephane Mallarme) was a French poet and literary critic, a contemporary of Rilke, Yeats and Verlaine. Mallarme was highly regarded by Huysmans, who praised the poet’s writing extensively in his 1884 novel À rebours.

Notes On Gustav Jönsson’s High Theory & Low Seriousness


Gustav Jönsson’s, High Theory and Low Seriousness (2019)a brisk and biting critique of contemporary literary theory published via Quillette  — opens with an assault upon the practice of ‘deep reading‘ (analytically interrogating a text to find overarching, underlying or purposefully or accidentally embedded meanings which may not necessarily be explicit).

Sixty years ago today, just as Henderson the Rain King was going to print, Saul Bellow penned an article for the New York Times in which he warned against the perils of deep reading. Paying too close attention to hidden meanings and obscure symbols takes all the fun from reading, he wrote. The serious reader spends an inordinate amount of energy trying to find profound representations in the most trivial of details. “A travel folder signifies Death. Coal holes represent the Underworld. Soda crackers are the Host. Three bottles of beer are—it’s obvious.” (Jönsson)

§00. Mr. Jönsson’s argument — that paying too much attention to the meaning of a text is detrimental to the experience of reading itself — whilst superficially compelling, is mistaken, as the problem in the scenario he lays out is engendered not through paying too much attention to obscure or arcane symbols, suggestions or descriptions, but rather, through possessing too little in the way of reliable heuristics for explicating them. Further, to say that plying attention “too close” to what is being said in a given text should be avoided configures a dictum that can lead to taking unseriousness very seriously (this is not, in any particular, Jönsson’s argument but it is easy to see how a rejection of literary-artistic “seriousness” can lead to superfluousness and anti-intellectualism, just as a fixation on “seriousness” can lead to a lock-jawed, grim-toned, pridefully humorless air).

Moreover, deep reading is such an imprecise game that numerous dull and contradictory interpretations arise from the same passage. “Are you a Marxist? Then Herman Melville’s Pequod in Moby Dick can be a factory, Ahab the manager, the crew the working class. Is your point of view religious? The Pequod sailed on Christmas morning, a floating cathedral headed south. Do you follow Freud or Jung? Then your interpretations may be rich and multitudinous.” One man, Bellow wrote, had volunteered an explanation of Moby Dick as Ahab’s mad quest to overcome his Oedipus complex by slaying the whale—the metaphorical mother of the story. (Jönsson)

§01. Here Jönsson makes an excellent point — namely, that everyone brings some kind of ideological framework to a text, and when the contents of the latter are made to fit into the pre-conceptualized mold of the former, the scryed work’s intended and real meaning is distorted, obscured, coopted or outright destroyed.

Instead of this tedious attitude to literature, Bellow urged that people take after E. M. Forster’s lightness of heart. Forster had once remarked that he felt worried by the prospect of visiting Harvard since he had heard that there were many deep and serious readers of his books there. The prospect of their close analysis made him uneasy. In short, for Bellow and Forster, the average academic critic tried to understand literature and thus ruined the enjoyment of it. (Jönsson)

§02. A reiteration of the problem covered in §00. — enjoyment is of key importance to any literary work, however, if it is made the only criterion, then art is rendered impossible, as all good and durable literary works incite in the reader, more than mere passing pleasure (ie. terror, dread, hopelessness, unease, ideas not considered which do not, in their re-consideration necessarily engender enjoyment); for the novel to be reduced to nothing more than a mild dopamine rush is to snatch it from its pedestal as the highest and most intricate form of art and transmogrify it into what functionally amounts to slowly consumed fast-food.

The low seriousness that Bellow lamented has only increased since his complaint. Today, literary scholarship is home to some of the most impenetrable gobbledygook ever put on paper. The main culprit is easily identifiable: literary theory. Literary theory, a school of criticism with little hold outside the universities, has captured whole colleges and threatens to extinguish students’ love of reading. Imagine the dejection a student about to begin university, eager to read the best that has ever been written, feels when they are told to examine some heavy tome of unreadable theory. It drains all the fun from reading. (Jönsson)

§03. The issue of the “gobbledygook” (to borrow Jönsson’s phrase) in the academies is one which has been vexing to the linguistically and narratively concerned since the shift in literary criticism turned to interpretation during the 20th Century. Tensions around the lack of unification in interpretation were further intensified by the lack of interdisciplinary discourse between the sciences and the humanities; a problem which can be ameliorated by simply fostering more interdisciplinary discourse (and crucially, debate, public and private).

Solemn readers—especially within the academy—take the view that novels must be read in the same manner that philosophers read Principia Mathematica, namely, by “interrogating” the text’s underlying logic. Theorists see themselves as philosophers of literature. For them, the task of understanding any piece of prose or poetry means developing an array of theories, much like philosophers try to explain reality through formulised conjecture. And just as philosophers have specialised lingo to aid their job, literary theorists also require their own jargon. Hence whole dictionaries now exist to help students navigate near incomprehensible passages. Opening my Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism more or less at random, I’m met by the following sentences:

[The phenotext is constantly split up and divided, and is irreducible to the semiotic process that works through the genotext. The phenotext is a structure (which can be generated, in generative grammar’s sense); it obeys rules of communication and presupposes a subject of enunciation and an addressee. The genotext, on the other hand, is a process; it moves through zones that have relative and transistory borders and constitutes a path that is not restricted to the two poles of univocal information between two full-fledged subjects.]

This is not an unfairly selected quote. Literary theory is often written in language that is not much more transparent than this. To offer one more example; Fredric Jameson delivers this inscrutability:

[The operational validity of semiotic analysis, and in particular of the Greimassian semiotic rectangle, derives, as was suggested there, not from its adequacy to nature or being, nor even from its capacity to map all forms of thinking or language, but rather from its vocation specifically to model ideological closure and to articulate the workings of binary oppositions, here the privileged form of what we have called the antinomy.]

Hegel hardly wrote anything more muddled. Of course, there are literary theories free of pseudo-philosophical gibberish. But some of the most prominent theorists write in this cryptic style. Martha Nussbaum (herself a lucid writer) criticised the prose of a celebrated theorist by saying that her elliptical and obscure writing “creates an aura of importance” but also “bullies the reader into granting that, since one cannot figure out what is going on, there must be something significant going on, some complexity of thought, where in reality there are often familiar or even shopworn notions, addressed too simply and too casually to add any new dimension of understanding.” (Jönsson)

§04. He remarks that literary theorists see themselves as philosophers of literature; the author seems to take exception to this, which is curious as developing theories (or hypotheses) concerning a given text is not itself the nexus of misinterpretation, but rather, formulating a insufficient hypothesis/theory. The author is on firm footing when he returns to his critique of obscurantist dialogue, a view with which I concur, as the purpose of all writing is to communicate (even if only to oneself at a future point in time, qua post-it notes) and if one is to communicate it were best one did so with as much clarity as possible. I would add that one should not be too quick to recoil from arcane words, firstly because lexiconic expansion should be encouraged (and it won’t be if every word one doesn’t understand is dismissed as fluff) and secondarily because specialized language is indispensable if it compresses and clarifies rather than obscures and expands. For example, instead of saying — as was quoted above — phenotext and genotext of [x], one could simply say, the what and why of [x] text (as the words are born out of genetics, phenotypic traits like eye-color are the what whilst the genotypic traits are the why of the what [ie. the reason why one has a certain eye coloration]. Thus, in this example, though phenotext and genotext aren’t necessarily bad terms, it is simpler to just say what and why (that is to say, to assume the form: x because y). However, there are many instances where new models are created wherein it becomes useful to create new words, and many more where old models are best described by compressor-words — for example: instead of saying “adhering to a conclusion regardless of the evidence once interrogated,” one can simply say “negatively postjudicial” instead (in the same way that one says “novel” in place of “a cultural artifact of bound paper or code, inscribed with a [largely] fictional narrative, typically divided by sections, called chapters, ranging from 70,000 words to 120,000[+] words). Thus, always the question: clarification or clutter?

In a sense, unintelligible writing is an insult to its own discipline because it suggests that it is not important for the reader to understand the content. Surely an author with something insightful to say would take care to make herself comprehensible. Why convey a thought at all if it need not be understood? Only those with nothing to say can afford to revel in opacity. In short, cryptic writing may create an aura of importance but in fact it advertises its own lack of value. (Jönsson)

§05. See: §04.

Badly written scholarship is a negative in itself, but worse, it is also an opportunity cost for it crowds out the reading of good criticism. A seminar spent discussing Althusser or Derrida is one which could have focused on Samuel Johnson or James Wood. Worse still, the examination of turgid theories takes time from truly excellent works of literature. I can remember attending a seminar on Virginia Woolf’s Orlando where the tutor seemed to view the book as an excuse to discuss Judith Butler’s theory of “gender performativity.” Something has surely gone wrong when literature is used to further theories rather than the other way around. (Jönsson)

§06. The notion that something has “gone wrong” if literature is utilized to further theories (or hypotheses) rather than the other way around, is understandable (given the doubtless nauseating performance described before it), but mistaken. There is no reason that literature should not further theories (or hypotheses) anymore than there is reason for the converse to be true. Again we return to heuristics, what kind of theories are being crafted from what works, how and why? Until these questions are answered, then it is simply impossible to make such a blanket statement as “never use literature to further theories.” Case in point: after the publication of Jules Verne’s lauded science fiction work, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea (originally serialized in Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation, 1869 to 1870), inventor Simon Lake became enamoured with underwater machinery and consequently, designed The Argonaut, the world’s first successful open-water submarine; Verne’s story Robur The Conqueror (1886) was also instrumental in inspiring the invention of the modern helicopter. A fairly ringing endorsement of the positive effects of utilizing literature for theoretical inception for practical application. Of course, the spineless, toothless, deconstructuralist, poststructural neocom, anarchist, gender theologizing so characteristic of the academies which the author decries is considerably more difficult (one is tempted to say impossible) to use for such inventive and civilizationally impactful ends.

The problem with literary theory is that it is not proper “theory.” At best, it is hypothesis without predictive value. There may be some descriptive capacity in literary “theories,” but they do not predict anything about prose or poetry. (What future literary developments can be anticipated by reference to Harold Bloom’s theory of “the anxiety of influence”?) In contradistinction to literary theories, scientific and philosophical theories are open to refutation. Science is tethered to reality and scientific conjectures can thus be refuted by empirical evidence. Literature—being fictional—cannot. This allows literary theorists to gain adherents whilst being free from worries of rebuttal. The consequence is an ever swelling canon of contradictory deepities. (Jönsson)

§07. Here Jönsson comes upon the crux of the issue — that of the fundamentally non-theoretical nature of what is called “theory” in contemporary academia (particularly in the humanities). That is to say, all contemporary critical “theories” are not really theories at all, but hypotheses. The linguistic distinction here is important, given the scientific background which informs nearly all of western discourse; anyone who is scientifically literate understands that a theory is privileged above a hypothesis because a theory can be rigorously, empirically, tested. After hypotheses make their way up to the classification of theories, they are considered true, though they are not necessarily true, but rather, have yet to be proven false (ie. evolution). The problem with contemporary literary hypothesis (as it should more properly be called) is that it is primarily concerned with textual interpretation as its standard of operation rather than attempting to hem into those facets of literature which may be objectively remarked upon, then formal-logically remarked upon, induced and deduced, rather than psychoanalytically conjectured or whimfully presumed.