Friday, May 08, 2009

critical theory on the ground

R.R. Reno (Teaching in the Twenty-First Century) explains why the Scholastic method as exemplified by Thomas is the quintessence, not the bane, of critical thought. Along the way, he puts his finger on the very different nature of critical theory,
an intellectual project, the main goal of which is to show that conventional ways of thinking are hopelessly naïve, if not malign and corrupt. It is a deck-clearing operation - not to prepare students for truth, but to prepare them for life without truths.
Let me provide an on the ground example of how the expose-the-power-structures project translates into the life of a bright Princeton undergraduate. I'm at the Bookeye today (the Gandolph the white of your tired gray xerox machine), and a previous student of mine casually asks an acquaintance,

"You're majoring in comp lit!? Why not politics?"

"Comp lit is interesting," she replies.

"Yeah, but politics is everything. I majored in art history, but switched to politics, because that's what art history was really about. For my art history papers I just talked about how art was a way for the gringos to keep those Native Americans down."

Hoping for backup, he looks to me and says, "That's art history, right Matt?"

I smiled and responded, "Some would say."