Caught in the Winds of Change: The Plight of Criticism Today
แม้ว่าหน้าที่หลักอันเป็นอุคมคติของการวิจารณ์คือการเป็นตัวกลางระหว่างงานศิลปะกับมหาชน แต่การวิจารณ์ก็ต้องเผชิญกับความเปลี่ยนแปลงที่เบียดตัวเข้ามาสู่วงการ อันมีลักษณะของการหลงตัวเอง ซึ่งผันตัวไปสู่การแสดงออกด้วยภาษาของคนพูดมาก มุ่งแต่จะยกวาทกรรมทุติยภูมิของการวิจารณ์ขึ้นเหนือระดับของวาทกรรมปฐมภูมิของงานต้นแบบ การวิจารณ์จึงตกอยู่ในภาวะสุดโต่งที่แยกออกจากกันเป็นสองขั้ว ขั้วหนึ่งหลงอยู่กับศักยภาพอันไม่รู้จบของสื่อต่างๆ อันรวมถึงสื่อสังคมสมัยใหม่ ซึ่งมีอยู่หลากหลายและครอบครองอาณาบริเวณอันไพศาล และอีกขั้วหนึ่งผูกติดอยู่กับภาวะจองจำด้วยทฤษฎีของวงวิชาการ เมื่อสิ่งแวดล้อมเป็นเช่นนี้ การวิจารณ์จะหลุดรอดออกจากวังวนนี้ได้อย่างไร จากประสบการณ์ที่ได้คลุกคลีอยู่กับวรรณกรรม ดนตรี ละคร และทัศนศิลป์ อันรวมถึงกิจกรรมการวิจารณ์ศิลปะแขนงต่างๆ เหล่านั้นทั้งในและต่างประเทศ
และสังคม ซึ่งกรณีหลังนี้อาจตีความเกินไปจากกรอบความคิดของนักวิจารณ์ชาวอังกฤษ แมทธิว อาร์โนลด์ (Matthew Arnold) และ
แฟรงค์ เรย์มอนด์ ลีวิส (Frank Raymond Leavis) โดยเปิดทางไปสู่มโนทัศน์ของพุทธศาสนาที่ว่าด้วยสติ
Caught in the Winds of Change: The Plight of Criticism Today
Criticism – wholesome and unwholesome
Please allow me to begin this paper with a few precautionary and explanatory remarks. Although our gathering is supposed primarily to address issues related to English Studies, I wish to draw on my experience with criticism inThailandas well asFranceand the German-speaking countries, and shall not restrict myself to the field of literature, but shall cross over to the performing arts and the visual arts as well. Not only do the various arts “illuminate” each other – Comparatists often speak of “mutual illumination of the arts” –, but interart studies can likewise be extremely enriching.
As for the concept of “criticism”, the English-speaking world may have proved itself to be an authoritative model without knowing it. I participated in an international colloquium organized by the Centre for Literary and Cultural Research Berlin in mid-December 2004, and a number of scholars from the host country were of the same opinion that the segregation between “Literaturkritik” (literary criticism as practised in the domain of journalism) and “Literaturwissenschaft” (literary science, meaning literary scholarship belonging more to academia) is unwholesome, and they were ready to embrace the concept of “criticism” in the English sense, as this is flexible and all-embracing. (Of course, there are German scholars who write for newspapers, especially in their “Feuilleton” section which contains critical reviews of high quality, but they themselves are perhaps not convinced that they do combine the best of both worlds). I have been a Research Fellow at the International Research Centre “Interweaving Performance Cultures” of the Free University Berlin for 3 years now, and we Fellows have been exposed to what is known in German as the “Regietheater” (the director’s theatre, in which the director has absolute freedom to do whatever he/she likes, including distorting the text of classical plays). Every year,Berlinstages a Theatre Festival called “Theatertreffen” (literally, a meeting of theatres) in which 10 productions, judged by a jury to be the best of a particular year in the German-speaking countries (Germany,Austria,Switzerland), are invited to perform inBerlinduring a fortnight’s period. We cannot help feeling that most of the productions are downright bad artistically, and the Director of the Centre absolutely agrees with us. On one occasion I asked her why she had not written reviews of these performances (as she ranks among the foremost scholars of Theatre Studies inGermanyand is highly recognized abroad as well.) Her laconic answer was, “I only write academic works.”
Where academics opt not to function, journalists are obliged to step in, and in many instances they discharge their responsibility with courage. With regard to the “Theatertreffen” of the year 2011, the critic of the Berlinlocal daily, Der Tagesspiegel, was weary of the excessive “actualizing” and “politicizing” process in most of the productions, whereby current “hot issues” are woven arbitrarily into the fabric of the existing works:
The theatre makers proceed in a documentary manner. They do not tell stories, they collect data. Drama does not lie in the fictitious but in the factual. The stage functions as a bulwark against the daily deluge of reports on catastrophes, […] The theatre cannot keep up with such dense staging of reality. Too powerful is the theatrality of the outside world. Art capitulates and recedes ﴾into the position of﴿ an onlooker. And it makes a lot of noise in the process.(1)
I attended the “Theatertreffen” in May 2011 and must concede that the journalist hit the nail on the head and had a very succinct way of saying things that could silence many academics.
When I look back to the Anglo-American critical and scholarly scene, I find a towering figure like Frank Kermode, ﴾who only died last year at the age of 90﴿ and who once occupied one of the most prestigious Chairs of English Literature, but who was fully happy to function as a “critic.” He was fully conscious of what he was doing:
“But my own, strengthening view […] is that it’s important to keep contact between the institution and an educated public, and some of the things that I’ve tried to do have been in the interests of that.[…] All that kind of work seems to me very important, because it’s important to the general civility.”(2)
Kermode mentioned specifically The London Review of Books, in which he had been involved, as an instrument in bridging the gap between the public and academia. We could add such titles as The New York Review of Books, and of course, The Times Literary Supplement, which has been operating for over a century. It is no wonder that my German colleagues at the Berlin colloquium longed for an intellectual environment that produced critics like Kermode, ﴾who was also a great professor﴿. It is an environment that I got to know as a young undergraduate, and that has given me much inspiration both as a scholar and a critic.
But speaking about an “educated” or an intellectual public in relation to all forms of arts may still be too restrictive. The theatre, for example, caters for very large, classless audiences, and theatre criticism has consequently to address a heterogeneous readership. Journalistic criticism can thus wield an immense influence. I recall a film which I saw many years ago, starring the young Laurence Olivier, that unfortunately is not taken up in the comprehensive Complete Films of Laurence Olivier ﴾2003﴿.(3) It deals with the fortunes of an actor, whose première of Othello turned out to be a catastrophe as a result of his stage fright. His wife anticipated an annihilating review by the most eminent of theatre critics. It was customary that a critic would return to the newspaper’s office immediately after the evening performance and write or dictate his review on the spot, which would appear in the newspaper the following morning. In the case of this distinguished critic, he had such an efficient young secretary whom he could implicitly trust. So he normally dictated his review to her and went straight home without having to vet the draft, and that also happened with his criticism of Othello. The actor’s wife dropped into the newspaper’s office after the critic’s departure, implored the kind-hearted secretary to convert a devastating review into a rave one. That re-concocted critical piece made a great star of the actor, the show became a stunning success and had a very long run. Such was the influence of criticism. ﴾I shall refrain from recollecting the rest of the story which had the secretary being dismissed and getting involved in a love affair with the actor himself!.﴿ That was the age when print media were still omnipotent.
I have unintentionally begun with the unwholesome side of criticism which fed on the credulity of an “uncritical” public. That legacy is still very much with us, and with the advent of “mass” media in our “mass” society, the public can be easily influenced and manipulated, as shown by Richard Hoggart in his seminal work, Mass Media in a Mass Society ﴾2004﴿.(4) A German theatre director, who also taught at the renowned Falkenberg School of Drama inMunich, told me that he had known young actors destroyed by adverse criticism, which, in one particular case, led to suicide! In this respect, there is an unwritten code of professional ethics which is often forgotten by practising critics, namely that criticism of the arts is of a different kind from political criticism which usually aims at dislodging one’s political opponent, so that one’s own party will be able to take over the political helm. In the arts, the ideal critic criticizes the work of an artist with the aim of making him realize his strengths as well as weaknesses, so that he may improve himself. Negative criticism, if practised in good faith, can also be constructive. And I have known artists who can take adverse criticisms. That does not depend only on the way the critic writes: with a great critic, his good faith and his professionalism will shine through.
Which brings me to the wholesome side of criticism, and here I have to reminisce again. I spent a few years in Manchester, England, in the late 1950s, preparing for university entrance, and while there, benefited greatly from the musical riches of that superior Northern industrial city and witnessed how constructive criticism functioned. I am thinking particularly of the music criticism of Sir Neville Cardus, which appeared regularly in the newspaper The Manchester Guardian, before it metropolitanized itself and shed its birthplace. Being a novice to Western classical music, I could not always trust my ear and had to look for help from a review of the concert that I had just attended. Sir Neville Cardus was my reliable guide. His approach was instinctive; he wrote as an “amateur” in the etymological sense of the word. His praise as well as his censure were well grounded, but above all, his ability to characterize was incomparable, and of course he had a style that turned a piece of criticism into a literary work. ﴾He was also equally at home in writing about cricket, and people were never quite sure whether he was knighted on the merit of his distinguished writing on music or on cricket﴿. He wrote on musical performances given both in London and in Manchester ﴾and also on important musical events abroad, for example, the Bayreuth Festival﴿. It was his intuition that led him to strongly recommend to Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra of Manchester to devote themselves to the music of Gustav Mahler. (The conductor had previously conducted Mahler only once or twice.) Barbirolli listened to the prompting from the critic and soon discovered that he had a spiritual affinity for the music of Mahler, and in 1956 all the 9 Mahler symphonies were performed by the Hallé Orchestra to great acclaim. ﴾I cannot help recalling how my dictionary-fumbling command of English in those days had to cope with the Programme Notes written by none other than Cardus himself﴿. Music lovers flocked to that still sooty English city to hear Gustav Mahler, and Barbirolli was invited by orchestras abroad to reintroduce Mahler to their audiences. Even the prestigious Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra had to ask him to come over to conduct Mahler symphonies. The Mahler Renaissance, which is still going strong today, owes its birth to the Hallé Orchestra and its conductor. So an English critic successfully persuaded an English musician, son of an Italian father and a French mother, to revive the music of a Bohemian composer, which has since conquered the entire world, a real feat of “cultural globalization” ﴾avant la lettre﴿. In this case, criticism does not remain reactive, it has become proactive. And that is what good criticism should be, namely a torchbearer.
An Extramural Short Course: A Thai Case Study
I have up to now dealt with criticism which constitutes an integral part of written culture and have concentrated on Western culture and particularly print media. Turning back to my own culture, I must admit that we are still very much committed to the oral tradition, and this commitment, in some ways, conditions our criticism. The notion of criticism addressing a large reading public remains a novelty to us, and the “general civility” that Frank Kermode spoke of in the etymological sense of citizenry (an equivalent of the German term “Öffentlichkeit”) is not familiar to us. Oral culture is community-based; it does not shun critical activity, but criticism is linked to a practical way of life. Practitioners of the arts engage in serious criticism, which is orally transmitted. Strange though it may seem, the research project, “Criticism as an Intellectual Force in Contemporary Society” (Phase I: 1999-2002), which I was directing with a grant from the Thailand Research Fund (TRF), has proved to be revelatory in many ways, for in spite of century-old exposure to Western culture, we remain very much attached to our traditional thinking. A very distinguished professor of drama, trained in the West, who had done remarkable work in introducing Western drama toThailand, instructed her colleagues in the following terms: “If you want to criticize my work, come and speak to me in private.” There could be no service rendered to “the general civility” then.
The domain of Thai classical music is of particular interest. It is generally agreed that, in spite of the onslaught of Western pop and rock propelled by contemporary media, the standard of performance generally remains very high indeed. A musical culture totally bereft of criticism could not have maintained such quality. Criticism, which can be very harsh, is reserved for the inner circle of the initiated. It is not made public. (The advent of cyberspace may have loosened up that rigidity, but anonymous comments on blogs or websites cannot be described as “public”). We need a framework to make criticism public, namely by way of an open contest. For example, two orchestras would be pitched against each other, each one trying to outdo its opponent by a performative act. The first orchestra might put up a challenge by playing a difficult piece, which is then picked up by the second orchestra and “outplayed” by way of improvising an even more intricate and sophisticated performance, only to be countered again by the first orchestra in a similar manner. The contest can go on for some time until the jury signals to the two orchestras to end their battle, or, in rare cases, the loser admits its own defeat in a gentlemanly spirit, packs up its instruments and goes home. This is music criticizing music by way of music, a completely non-verbal criticism. Whatever be the merit of such a convention, a critical discourse in linguistic form does not emerge. Absolute artistry does not necessarily engender verbal criticism. This is a different way of thinking, a different way of life even.
If the humanities according to the Western model are a “critical discipline,” the Thais do find it hard to compete with the West. Practice is our guiding principle, and words do not suffice. (A newcomer to Western academia is unavoidably baffled by the question, “What do you read?”). Literary studies, à la thaïlandaise, were in the old days not merely a bookish preoccupation: students were supposed to be able to assert themselves as creative poets. They were required to “perform” by way of reciting canonical literary texts as well as their own compositions. Traditional Thai poets did think theoretically, but they did not write their “poetics” in the same way as Aristotle and his followers. They wove their poetics and theories into their creative works. Theories were then implicit and not explicit, and were not expressed in discursive prose. I have elsewhere demonstrated how the dance drama Inao from the 18th century contains theories that would have won the approval of Thomas Mann and T.S. Eliot.(5) The reluctance to codify our knowledge and wisdom had its negative side as well, and King Rama III was obliged to collect traditional Thai cultural and intellectual heritage in a systematic way and codify it in permanent form for posterity by way of The Stone Inscriptions of Wat Pho, usually known as our “university in stone.” On this topic, I have already given critical analyses in a number of earlier articles.(6)
Lest it be misunderstood that the Thais have no “written culture” of their own, it might be desirable to think of this written culture along the lines of pre-Gutenberg Europe, especially the Middle Ages. Print culture was imported from the West in the mid-19th century, and the Thais have taken a kind of extramural “short course” in print culture, which had taken their Western counterparts many centuries to complete. Not having had time to mature with print culture (and its accompanying critical and public spirit), we awoke one day to a deluge of technology-driven media without having time to reflect, to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. In other words, we have been irredeemably uncritical. In blind and servile subservience to the market forces, we unashamedly brainwash our compatriots in consumer mentality and money-mindedness: everything can be commodified, including intangible cultural heritage. Our inborn poetic talent, celebrated by Louis XIV’s emissary, Simon de la Loubère, in his Description du royaume de Siam (1691),(7) is now being exploited in the service of advertising and political propaganda. (A prize-winning poet, some years ago, did not hesitate to stoop down so low as to write verses in support of a thoroughly corrupt political leader). In times of political drowsiness as at present, we need criticism more than ever, and criticism of the arts will have to cross over to criticism of life and society. I shall return to this issue later.
If speed is a determining factor in modern life, we have done very well in catching up with technologically advanced societies, and the short course we have taken qualifies us to enroll as members of the cyber age. Never mind that somebody else invented the system (and the hardware), we have always been adept as users of end products. Would cyberspace be conducive to eliminating those cultural inhibitions that stand in the way of criticism? The current phase of the research project on criticism, again supported by the Thailand Research Fund, called “Criticism: An Encounter between Written Culture and Cyber Culture”, which started in October 2010, has yielded some interesting preliminary findings. In the first instance, the (almost absolute) freedom to express one’s opinion in cyberspace does not necessarily give rise to good criticism. In many cases, abuses have replaced genuinely critical observations. Then, speed has destroyed reflective thinking. Immediate reaction to a particular experience without giving oneself a chance to reflect on it mostly results in shoddy and superficial opinion (The critic in the Laurence Olivier film, discussed above, did have time to reflect at least on the way from the theatre to the newspaper’s office). Brevity, conditioned by spatial and temporal limitations, impoverishes linguistic expression and cannot be compared to the skills associated with telegram writing, whose creative progeny was the cultivation of a “telegram style” among the German Expressionist poets.
On a more positive side, the cyber world is endowed with ubiquity and coverage. More and more people at the global level inhabit cyberspace. Youths start writing fiction at a very tender age, basing their narrative ability on television and computer games rather than on textual models. (Our researchers once came into contact with one fiction writer aged 8!) Their linguistic potentiality is meagre indeed, and soon enough they feel the need for “critics” to tend to their literary exploits; they are honest enough to seek advice from volunteers in the cyber “creative writing class.” Our researchers have been thinking of launching a “writing clinic”, but the demands are so great as to intimidate them. In this sense, criticism harks back to the old Thai tradition, that of being practice-oriented. As for the would-be critics, they too very soon realize that they lack the basics on which to operate and have been pestering our researchers with requests for handbooks of writing with clear-cut judgmental criteria as to what is good and what is bad writing. Expressed in traditional terms, these inhabitants of the cyber world are in dire need of normative poetics. Aristotle and Boileau would certainly have been delighted!
So we are dealing with writers and literary critics who have read very little. Those who mean serious business have, of their own accord, gone back to written and print culture in order to read more edifying texts. There already exist inhabitants of “the buffer zone” who travel back and forth between the real world and the cyber world. They know how to make use of speedy reactions to their works via the internet so as to improve their writing, which in any case remains an open-ended enterprise. They do not have to rely on those traditional “readers” attached to publishing houses, for they have their innumerable critics – whether competent or incompetent – to help vet their drafts. The finished product – if they decide to call it a day – is usually published in the traditional way in book form. And in a law-abiding society, copyrights are paid.
When our researchers in the different fields start to compare notes, their findings can be revelatory. The field of literature still trails behind that of cinema in terms of criticism. That is not difficult to explain: criticism of literature is practised by people with little knowledge of literature, whereas the cinema is a favourite pastime of many people who at least command one foreign language, namely English, ﴾however badly and in spite of the availability of subtitles, the implication being that they have attained a certain level of formal education﴿. Cinema-goers have more intensive experience of the cinema than the “literary” experience of inhabitants of the cyber world. Hence, the views they express either in print or via the social networks are the fruit of critical reflection. The same cannot be said for television, for it is an intellectual desert that feels no shame in providing viewers with cheap soap operas, game shows, reality shows and biased news. Even our own Public Broadcasting Service ﴾PBS﴿ channel, which feeds on public money, is plagued by political partisanship. How can criticism arise from such an arid field? As for visual arts, there is little going on in the way of criticism. Our previous research has identified its major defect as an academic problem: artists are trained almost exclusively in the practical side of the arts, while art history and art theory are almost totally neglected. It is mind-boggling to have to admit that after over half a century of formal education in modern art, artists and art lovers are still busy educating themselves, through workshops or websites, in the basics of art history and aesthetics – outside academia.
With regard to Thai classical music, we have seen that the cyber world has provided a new arena for criticism, but the old inhibitions have not yet been overcome, and a meaningful dialogue has not as yet materialized. Western classical music has a restricted audience, and criticism both in the print media and via the internet likewise caters for a very small readership. It is in the field of drama that criticism seems to possess the kind of dynamism that is absent from the other domains. I shall try to be more explicit.
Western-style theatre was introduced to Thailand in the late 19th century, one of its chief protagonists being none other than King Rama VI ﴾1881-1925﴿, whose translations of Shakespeare have remained unrivalled and some of his own plays, combining Western with traditional Thai style, are considered our modern classics. But it was after World War II that modern British and American plays were staged within academia as part of a “practicum” for courses in English and American literature ﴾It is not surprising that Drama Departments grew out of English or Western Languages Departments﴿. These plays were soon translated and adapted into Thai and proved to be an inspiration to independent mostly﴾ amateur﴿ theatre groups to attempt their own staging and to come up with their own original works. They have been called “The Lean Theatre,” as opposed to “The Plump Theatre” dominated by lavish production in imitation of the Western musical and supported by its wealthy ally, the soap opera. The Lean Theatre has an affinity with the German “Zimmertheater” ﴾literally, chamber theatre﴿. Born of amateur roots during the heyday of the democratic boom in the 1970s and operating on a shoestring budget, it more than amply compensates for its lack of spectacular effects by way of thought-provoking content and dramatic intensity. It welcomes criticism and critics consider it worthwhile to devote their attention to these groups. Both parties, the theatre people and the critics, take each other seriously, and if the money-minded media have within the past decade been ungenerous or indifferent to criticism, cyberspace is limitless. But the hallmark of this relationship between actors and critics is still based on human contact. After a live performance, members of the public, director, critics and actors will gather to discuss the work in a true spirit of conviviality. The critics feel that they have a part in upholding a critical culture by way of fervently mediating between the theatre and the public.
I have deliberately chosen to conclude this chapter by refraining from apotheosizing cyber culture and by emphasizing the human warmth emanating from social and intellectual interaction. There is no need to choose between the real world and the cyber world. They can coexist.
Unnecessary Polarization: Criticism between Academic Elitism and Cyber Freedom
I shall return to the Western world again and refer to weighty arguments concerning the limitless possibilities of the cyber world and the suicidal parochialism of academia. Not only the academics have come under attack, but also the critics, who once reigned supreme in the traditional media. “Everyone’s a critic now,” is the caption of an article by the American journalist and academic, Neal Gabler, in The Observer of 30 January 2011. In the grand manner of a patriarch and in the name of American democracy – the word “democracy” being the magic formula pervading this piece of writing – , he bids welcome to the almighty internet, whose power can be historically explained:
[…] how much American culture has been predicated on a conscious resistance to cultural elites. […] This is hardly a recent occurrence occasioned by the internet and other democratising elements [my emphasis]. It actually began at the country’s inception when political opposition to England bled into a form of cultural opposition as well [my emphasis].
[…] the real threat to cultural authority turns out not to be blogging but social networking. It is Twitter, Facebook, myDigg, Yelp and dozens of other sites where, sometimes just by sheer quantity of opinion [my emphasis], the people are overrunning the Winter Palace of cultural elitism.(8)
There are a number of fallacies one can easily detect in this manifesto-like piece of writing. We could call them “the quantitative fallacy,” “the populist fallacy,” “the democratic fallacy,” and last but not least, “the axiological fallacy,” the last being the most dangerous, for Gabler is prepared to forgo any sense of value in favour of popular consensus – which sooner or later will turn out to be popular oppression ﴾The entertainment world in Thailand has been suffering an irreparable qualitative loss with the excessive popularity of a programme called “Academy Fantasia”, in which popular votes decide who wins or loses in a grand-manner, 3-month-long singing contest﴿. Gabler does not care about the quality or value of the work of art; nor does the question of the quality of criticism bother him at all. It is an all-out battle between high and low. Let us not forget that a great thinker like Richard Hoggart or his younger British colleague, Terry Eagleton, hailed from the working class of Northern England, but they have no qualms about making value judgments in cultural matters. I cannot help feeling that over-politicization of cultural issues has become misleading, to say the least. We have already seen, in connection with the Berlin Theatre Festival, how politicization has damaged the contemporary German theatre. If Gabler deigned to do a little research, as my Thai colleagues have done, he would soon find out that the facts do not bear him out. Let us now turn our attention to academia.
The embattled humanities everywhere are struggling for survival and more often than not put the blame on the government or the university administration for having rechannelled most financial support to science and technology, which may be true. Perhaps it is timely to indulge in a little self-criticism. In a review of the book, Not for Profit ﴾2010﴿, by Martha Nussbaum, the reviewer of The Times Literary Supplement of 19 November 2010 sees no need to mince his words:
The real challenge to the humanities – and Nussbaum is silent on this point – is higher education itself. University departments in the humanities have disgraced themselves. In the US and, increasingly, in Britain, departments of history, English, philosophy, religion and even music and the arts are racked by politicized prudery. Bogus sub-disciplines spawn like bacteria. Academics spend their time and energy writing unreadable monographs on pointless subjects. Revered works of art and literature are treated with disdain even as the productions of nonentities receive the lavish attention of graduate seminars. That overwhelming majorities of students avoid the humanities, sensing them to be a waste of time, is not altogether surprising.(9)
Various characteristics of the contemporary humanities described here as problematic may be considered by many scholars as the strengths of the discipline. The charge of politicizing academia can be defended on the grounds of political correctness. What is branded as “unreadable” may in some quarters be held in high esteem as the most profound and succinct critical discourse. And the rejection of traditional canonical texts in order to embrace other texts produced by former “subalterns” of the colonial and postcolonial era can be hailed as new discoveries. Unfortunately, the most decisive aspect of the innovative urge of present-day humanities has not been mentioned, namely the preoccupation ﴾or some would say, the fixation﴿ with theory.
It may be a truism to say that there can be no humanities which do not engage in theory of some kind. But it may also be true that the last half-century has seen a theoretical engagement of astronomical proportions in the humanities, particularly in the United Statesand subsequently in parts of UKacademia. It is a known fact that these theoretical fixations have been French-inspired, but it is rather disconcerting to note that this intellectual reception may not have been greeted with enthusiasm in the originating culture itself. In the monograph in French written by a French scholar, François Cusset, with an English title, French Theory ﴾