Whither theory? The question risks seeming gauche. It has been, after all, asked with a monotonous regularity, although perhaps at a slightly lesser frequency of late; and more than that, it is not entirely clear that it is answerable. This is partly because we are still not sure what “theory” is or was and because “theory,” if it persists, is no longer something that most aspirant scholars come to specialize in, at least if gainful employment in a literature department remains for them a going concern. Rather, theory has been diffused, retrospectively slotted into the old period categories and genres, and defused, largely stripped of its reflexive punch and assimilated to something like “method.”

More than a nodding acquaintance with Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is expected of a viable PhD graduate in the literary humanities (but not often...

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