Friday, December 12, 2008

In the end, theory seems unescapable

After a full semester of playing with literary theory in and out of the academy, I am still left with unanswered questions. These doubts aren't due to a lack of thoroughness on our Critical Theory class.
By nature, theory leaves much to the imagination. I felt like I was always armed with the question, "How does this operate in my daily life?". And while these concepts are meant primarily to dissect literature, I found them nagging me at the strangest of moments. Sometimes I felt Derrida or Baudrillard creeping into arguments and papers that, at first glance, had little to do with deconstructing my universe. From arguments with my boyfriend over feminism to analyzing film, theory became a great way to confuse friends and win debates.
After all this time I think I was most fascinated by Marxist concepts of ideology combined with feminist theory. The concept of ideology as applied by almost all theoretcial schools dominates the way I think about these theorists. Every time we read a new perspective I could only obsesses about the author's ability to see past the prejudices he/she wrote about while simultaneously declaring these systems encompassing and mentally inescapable. I feel like this contradiction is my main criticism of theory as a whole. Nevertheless, this question does not invalidate literary theory as a whole. Instead, it adds an entirely new dimension to the criticisms these intellectuals make.

The moment when I knew that I could never "unknow" theory was when I went to see Charlie Kaufman's new film Synecdoche, NY. To summarize this film briefly is literally impossible. In short, Synecdoche, NY centers around Caden Cotard's efforts to reconcile his tragic and futile life by building a life-size replica of New York full of actors playing other actors playing other actors. It speaks to the nature of Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulacrum as well as Derrida's thoughts on the signifier and the signified. While the pseudo-city is bursting with life and tragedy, it does not approach the essence of that which it replicates. The imitation lacks the substance of the real, implying that this simulation is no less "real" than the imitation. Or, using Derrida's logic, perhaps the simulation is merely trying to imitate something that is an imitation as well. The complexities these theories propose both complicate and enrich my understanding of the things I enjoy.

Maybe these theories are best applied as philosophies. Used over a broader spectrum, I find that theory is just another lens through which we can critically view the world.

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