The essay questions the leading role of literary theory throughout the twentieth century and the reason why Theory with a capital T was born out of the field of literary theory rather than out of any other discipline, such as sociology, history, psychoanalysis, and so on. The author argues that literature–in the modern sense of the term–necessitated literary theory from its very beginnings because of the manner in which it was constituted, namely as a conditioned opening of unconditionality, a fragile, not predetermined potentiality that calls for ever new theorizations in such a way as to incessantly cross its own boundaries. From such a perspective, literary theory can be reenvisioned as having always been multiple and inherently divided, a conglomerate of monsters, a differential force field destined to move beyond its “proper” object and to integrate different approaches and disciplines, generating new fields of research. Because of the changing status of literature today, however, and due to theory’s inherent self-destructive tendencies, the fragile unconditionality that makes us free is in danger of being lost.
The Den of Theoretical Monsters
darin tenev is an associate professor in the Literary Theory Department at the University of Sofia “St. Kliment Ohridski” and in the Sociology and Human Sciences Department at the University of Plovdiv. He is also the director of the Institute for Critical Social Studies. He has given lectures in Berlin, Kyoto, Munster, New York, and Tokyo. He has published two books in Bulgarian, Digressions: Essays on Jacques Derrida (Iztok-Zapad, 2013) and Fiction and Image: Models (Zhanet-45, 2012), as well as various theoretical texts on literary theory of models, deconstruction, the theory of fiction, narratology, speech act theory, and Modernism. Among his recent publications are “The Epigenetics of World Literature” (in Japanese) in World Literature and Japanese Modern Literature, edited by Mariko Noami (Tokyo University Press, 2019), and “Language Models and the Study of Literature,” in History of Humanities (Fall 2019).
Darin Tenev; The Den of Theoretical Monsters. differences 1 May 2021; 32 (1): 7–29. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-8956939
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