Alex Zwerdling, 15 October 1987
When the history of late 20th-century literary culture comes to be written, the extraordinary vogue of metatheoretical works will surely require explanation. What can account for the obsessive concern with theory in cultural commentary over the last twenty years? Why has methodological self-consciousness become a more pressing issue for literary critics than the traditional labour of elucidating literary works? Why are names like Barthes, Derrida, Benjamin, Foucault, Lukacs, Kristeva, Althusser, Lacan, Habermas, Bloom, Jameson, invested with the kind of glamour that literary intellectuals used to accord only to the great imaginative writers of their own time? Why have these masters produced so many eager disciples? Why has Literary Theory (thus capitalised) become an independent field rather than a serviceable set of working assumptions that enables critical commentary?