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Critical theory (and how to avoid it)

Posted: Sat Dec 05, 2015 22:38
by humblebee
I've got this nagging doubt about applying to do a PhD because I'm so averse to critical theory. I mean it's a creative writing thing, so it'd only be 50% thesis, with 50% creative writing project. But even then...

I never really got on with this stuff during either my BA or my masters back in the 1990s. And because I was insecure and had imposter syndrome I assumed it was just me. I got extraordinary, lavish praise and a first for an undergraduate essay about the limits of post-structuralism, but then developed the exact same ideas at Warwick for my MA and they refused to even mark my paper. That was the end of any academic ambition I had, until now; I basically phoned it in for the rest of the masters and then signed back on the dole.

I wonder if I'm not so averse to theory as to typical theoretical writing. So it's not so much that it's all bollocks as that it's so very, very tiresome. There might be some useful ideas in there somewhere, but I just can't be bothered to teaze them out because the writing is so awful, y'know? Ill-defined, imprecisely deployed jargon crammed into sentence after turgid sentence, page after page. I've been trying to read this piece (which is related to what my research would be about) and it's making me lose the will to live. But it's not just me, is it? That's actual bad writing, right?

My research proposal pulls in ideas from psychogeography and maybe a bit of reader-response or reception theory. Do you reckon I can get away with just that? Because in the end I don't want to trade in a steady if uninspiring job and regular income for a precarious existence as an overgrown student if it means three years like the one I had at Warwick. I'd rather work in marketing forever than have to read fucking Foucault again.

Re: Critical theory (and how to avoid it)

Posted: Sun Dec 06, 2015 21:20
by humblebee
Yes! I found The View From The Train full of interesting ideas and quite plain in style. At the time of reading I was probably comparing him unfavourably to people like Rebecca Solnit but to look back at it now, comparing it with your average academic writing, plain is a very good thing. (And, let's face it, nobody compares to Rebecca Solnit.)

Yes again. On the few occasions I've been arsed to persist with these texts to the point of actually figuring what they're on about, my typical reaction has been "oh... is that all?"

And yes, ironic performance, at least some of the time. Derrida, for one, was clearly just taking the piss. I think of him as a sort of cultural studies version of Mark E Smith.
So in short yes, it's bad writing and my suspicion is that, if it puts you off, that's because it's meant to one way or another. Always nice to waffle on a bit though.
Thankyou Andy. I'm glad it's not just me. If I get this scholarship I will kick all their sorry asses and show the world how it should have been done all along.