...over at The Valve.
I question the centrality of reader-response theory to literary theory, although I don't question that reader response theories may be interesting and useful in their own right. Really, I think it's more a question of what ought to be taught to whom than any actual methodological difference: I think critical theory can play an important educative and political role without the benefit of a cognitive psychology of narrative, but a cognitive psychology of narrative may nonetheless be a handy piece of theory to keep around.
Otherwise, I find myself in agreement with Cosma in general, specifically in his conclusion which I think lines up neatly with my thoughts on the role of theories.
I'd like to say more, specifically about "'practices' and other shared mental objects" and whether or not one should be dubious of them. Specifically, I'd like to look at how the notion of a syntactic rule - an ordinary concept in linguistics that is usually accepted by linguists without a second thought and is even less critically seen by speakers of Indo-European languages - is exactly the kind of unseen shared mental object that Cosma (or at least Stephen Turner, the target of his related link) would be dubious about, and yet is very difficult (although not quite impossible) to dispense with.
In short, I'm not sure that the shared mental object is so easily abolished. Too often, the presumption of social object's existence can't be readily abandoned because it "concretely change[s] the way we work" in ways that we can't just give up. We might, of course, following the empiricist tradition, just say that these things aren't entities in theories, merely rules of thumb yet to be explained within a productive theory. The English empiricist tradition in linguistics takes this view of quite a lot of apparently social objects in language. However, I'm not convinced that there is an obvious way to distinguish between theories and things that just work.
I guess my point is that, unlike Cosma, I don't especially priviledge methodological individualism as a method. It's basis seems poorly founded - why should we not equally priviledge a methodological cellularism, expecting all of our social theories to explain the actions of cells in living organisms, or subatomic particles? - but I am willing to accept that theories of social objects should be at least compatible with theories of the individual (and for that matter, theories of cellular biology or particle physics) and that useful work can be done in identifying and resolving the contradictions present in these different theories.
I haven't read anything by Moretti, so I can't really comment on the subject of genre theory or his book.
Alas, I have my Chinese exam today, along with a strong suspicion that I will not do very well on it. I'm switching language schools at the end of the month, to a pricier, but more conveniently located and scheduled facility. But, this keeps me from trying to respond more fully.Posted 2006/01/26 12:14 (Thu) | TrackBack