Ten Lessons in Theory: An Introduction to Theoretical Writing

Ten Lessons in Theory: An Introduction to Theoretical Writing

Calvin Thomas

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 1623564026

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

An introduction to literary theory unlike any other, Ten Lessons in Theory engages its readers with three fundamental premises. The first premise is that a genuinely productive understanding of theory depends upon a considerably more sustained encounter with the foundational writings of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud than any reader is likely to get from the introductions to theory that are currently available. The second premise involves what Fredric Jameson describes as "the conviction that of all the writing called theoretical, Lacan's is the richest." Entertaining this conviction, the book pays more (and more careful) attention to the richness of Lacan's writing than does any other introduction to literary theory. The third and most distinctive premise of the book is that literary theory isn't simply theory "about" literature, but that theory fundamentally is literature, after all.

Ten Lessons in Theory argues, and even demonstrates, that "theoretical writing" is nothing if not a specific genre of "creative writing," a particular way of engaging in the art of the sentence, the art of making sentences that make trouble-sentences that make, or desire to make, radical changes in the very fabric of social reality.

As its title indicates, the book proceeds in the form of ten "lessons," each based on an axiomatic sentence selected from the canon of theoretical writing. Each lesson works by creatively unpacking its featured sentence and exploring the sentence's conditions of possibility and most radical implications. In the course of exploring the conditions and consequences of these troubling sentences, the ten lessons work and play together to articulate the most basic assumptions and motivations supporting theoretical writing, from its earliest stirrings to its most current turbulences.

Provided in each lesson




















central and defining lack. And since we ourselves—as distinctly human beings, or non-animal animals—are always constituted in and by signification, we ourselves must be subjects of this very lack. For better or worse, Lacan chooses to speak of this situation, of our situation (in contrast to the non-human animal’s completely instinctual situation), in terms of symbolic castration—in terms, that is, that are not to be taken anatomically or biologically, but are to be taken, quite literally,

sentence presupposes its ending and literally provokes a reader’s desire for closure, her desire for “the end.” According to this interpretation of desire, we “readers” at a very basic level want the same “thing” from our sentences, our stories, and our lives—that by the time we reach their and our conclusions, they and we will have “totally” meant something.10 But believe it or not, this notion that we all desire to obtain a satisfying sense of “totality” or “completion” from syntactical,

“After US Evangelicals Visit, Uganda Considers Death for Gays,” The New York Times, 4 January 2010, A1). In 2011, however, “after receiving overwhelming criticism from across the globe, Uganda’s Parliament  .  .  .  let the time expire on a contentious anti-homosexuality bill that had threatened this East African country’s international standing. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill sought to impose the death penalty for a number of reasons, including being a ‘serial offender’ of the ‘offense of

176). In fact, my own heart’s desire at this juncture is nothing but to marry Lacan’s matter-of-fact statement about desire’s being “interpretation itself ” to Nietzsche’s radical claim that there are no facts, only interpretations.22 In other words, the “fact” that I have been 21 22 You can add Usher’s tarn and Quentin’s river to your list of bodies of water that represent “self-destructive” immersions in the oceanic real. You can also throw (yourself) in Buffalo Bill’s bathtub in The

Tennessee, the stark depiction of the “I am a man” placards held up against the fixed bayonets of the state militia. Lesson 7: “There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism”—or, the fates of literary formalism The lead sentence here is from Walter Benjamin, but the lesson begins with Terry Eagleton’s assertion that all the readers and writers of all the civilized documents in the world basically fall into two groups—those who actually understand

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