Re: SAID- traveling theory/short conclusion/retake

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Posted by rainer ganahl on August 04, 1996 at 12:26:43:

In Reply to: SAID- traveling theory/retake 1 posted by rainer ganahl on August 04, 1996 at 11:56:34:

Msg#: 5046 *TALK SHOW*
10-04-95 13:48:22
From: Rainer Ganahl
To: All
Subj: Reply to Msg# 5045 (RS)
The first text for the RS on The Thing, NYC: Edward Said, Traveling Theory, in:
Edward Said, The world, the text, and the critic, 1983, pages 226 - 247 (within
the USA I can fax the text to whoever wants it /just e-mail me if interested/-
the price of the book is approx. 15 $ and contains a variety of very
interesting texts - )

Main issues addressed:
- the traveling of ideas and theories from situation to situation, from place
to place, from time to time, from context to another one and so on. (of course,
this is the status quo also on the internet ...)
- traveling of ideas and theories as borrowings, as appropriations, as
adaptations, as transformations, as misreadings as major intellectual
activities. (on the WWW and on a BBS this is called making a WEB)
- questions after the task of intellectual labor and the function of theory and
critical consciousness
- comments on Lukacs, Goldmann, Williams, Foucault

Said's text outlines in the beginning several stages of any theory or idea that
travels: 1. a point of origin or what seems like one, a set of initial
circumstances in which the idea entered discourse. 2. a distance transversed, a
passage through various contexts, times and places where it will come into a
new prominence 3. new conditions of acceptance and resistances confronting and
transforming the theory 4. the full or partly accommodated idea or theory in a
new time, a new context, a new place

Then the author goes on and discusses the plurality of what is understood today
by Criticism, outlining again 4 debated issues (I quote directly from the
text): 1. Criticism as scholarship, humanism, a "servant" to the text, mimetic
in its bias, versus criticism as revisionism and as itself a form of
literature. 2. The role of critic as teacher and good reader: safeguarding the
canon versus subverting it or creating a new one. ... 3. Criticism as detached
from the political/social world versus criticism as a form of philosophical
metaphysics, psychoanalysis, linguistics, or any of these, versus criticism as
actually having to do with such "contaminated" fields of history, the media,
and economic systems. Here the distributional spread is much wider than in 1)
or 2). 4) Criticism as a criticism of language (language as negative theology,
as private dogma, as ahistorical metaphysics) versus criticism as an analysis
of the language of institutions versus criticism as a study of relationships
between language and nonlinguistic things.

Said then speaks about "the question of theory and of criticism in ways
suitable to the situation in which we find ourselves. ... this means an
historical approach.... as a result of specific historical circumstances."

Then the author shows the very specific history of Lukacs' analysis of the
phenomenon of reification. Lukacs developed it in Hungary as a participant in a
struggle for the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919. Goldmann, as student of
Lukacs, reintroduced it as an expatriate American into post-W.W.II Paris at the
Sorbonne, from where it got introduced in the 70s to Raymond Williams'
literature department of Cambridge.

The end of this article is dealing with Said's very interesting dichotomy
between theory and critical consciousness as a certain resistance to theory, as
an opening up toward historical reality. Here Said criticizes FoucaultUs theory
of power and accuses him of being in a theoretical trap.

Let me quote some paragraph I encounter as crucial for Said's article: "Theory,
in short, can never be complete, just as oneUs interest in everyday life is
never exhausted by simulacra, models, or theoretical abstracts of it. Of course
one derives pleasure from actually making evidence fit or work in a theoretical
scheme, and of course it is ridiculously foolish to argue that "the facts" or
"the great texts" do not require any theoretical framework or methodology to be
appreciated or read properly. No reading is neutral or innocent, and by the
same token every text and every reader is to some extent the product of a
theoretical standpoint, however implicit or unconscious such a standpoint may
be. I am arguing, however, that we distinguish theory from critical
consciousness by saying that the latter is a sort of spatial sense, a sort of
measuring faculty for locating or situating theory, and this means that theory
has to be grasped in the place and the time out of which it emerges as a part
of that time, working in and for it, responding to it; then, consequently, that
first place can be measured against subsequent places where the theory turns up
for use. The critical consciousness is awareness of the differences between
situations, awareness too of the fact that no system or theory exhausts the
situation out of which it emerges or to which it is transported. And above all,
critical consciousness is awareness of the resistances to theory, reactions to
it elicited by those concrete experiences or interpretations with which it is
in conflict. Indeed I would go as far as saying that it is the criticUs job to
provide resistances to theory, to open it up toward historical reality, toward
society, toward human needs and interests, to point up those concrete instances
drawn from everyday reality, that lie outside or just beyond the interpretive
area necessarily designated in advance and thereafter circumscribed by every
theory." p 241f

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