Literary Theories: a Case Study in Critical Performance. Perhaps a couple of things strike you about the title of this collection. Why, for instance, is there the insistence on ‘theories’ rather than ‘theory’? And why the phrase ‘critical performance’ instead of the more conventional, more commonplace ‘critical practice’ (which, had it been there, would have signalled some kind of pairing or opposite to the equally absent ‘theory’)? You see precisely what is absent, yet still partially readable, from the title is another title, which might be something like Literary Theory: a Case Study in Critical Practice. Such a title today expresses the conventional, the expected, the predictable; almost, we would say, after so many years of ‘theory’, the generic, which title might usefully express the following: first (the absent title would imply), there is theory, a model or programme separate from the act, the practice, of reading literature. Once you have learned the particular set of rules of the theory, once you have come to terms with its key concepts, ways of thinking, then you can go away and use those tools on a literary text of your choice. The implication is that you can, in short, practice theory as the secondary gesture or supplement to the ‘primary’ activity of understanding and learning ‘theory’.
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