Ten Lessons in Theory: An Introduction to Theoretical Writing
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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
psychoanalytic writing flows from its active trading with semiotics and structural linguistics. Lacan, that is, first “struck it rich” by reading Freud as if Freud had read Saussure, by rethinking Freud’s discoveries through Saussure’s “linguistic turn,” and by cashing in on the claim that “the unconscious is structured like a language” (1973/1981: 203).1 Our task in this lesson will be to understand what allows Lacan to stake his signature claim. We’ve of course already encountered the
resist it. And these texts don’t just resist some specific instance of meaning; rather, theoretical texts “resist meaning” altogether, resist meaning itself. They attempt to break free from those Introductory Matters: What Theory Does, Why Theory Lives 15 “constraints of common sense and ordinary language” that systematically regulate the ostensible given-ness of meaning, that work to make sure “our common perceptions” pretty much stay common. Theoretical texts attempt to liberate us as
the production of baffling dreams, neurotic symptoms, and embarrassing slips of the tongue; it determines and undermines the very production of meaning itself, all the work with words that makes the world that must be made to mean. Unconscious desire haunts all the forms 5 In How to Read Lacan, Žižek writes, “The unconscious is not the preserve of wild drives that have to be tamed by the ego, but the site where a traumatic truth speaks out. Therein lies Lacan’s version of Freud’s motto Wo es
headline, the most unpromising piece of prose, that any real fan of writing has ever encountered, that any really appreciative reader of fiction has ever really read. Coming to Terms Critical Keywords encountered in Lesson Three: sign, signifier/signified, referent, narrative/narration L e ss on Fou r “Desire must be taken literally” —a few words on death, sex, and interpretation I. “a few words” We often abuse the word “literally,” claiming that we literally died laughing or literally
debates about reform of the “health care system” are raging. On the op-ed page of the New York Times, a pundit named Matt Miller opines against making the health insurance that covers members of the US Congress available to the American public on the grounds that it “does little to encourage people to be smart health care shoppers” (21 July 2009). Now, it shouldn’t take an Althusserian brain surgeon to diagnose the problem with this symptomatic “encouragement,” to recognize “smart health care