It took less than two decades for the complex of social science paradigms known as poststructuralist theory to become the prevailing orthodoxy in American literary criticism. Bound by a common antihumanism and an imperative to resolve the aesthetic into the linguistic, the political, and/or the psychological, variants of deconstruction, Marxism, feminism, and Lacanian psychology coalesced into a sort of imperial court that banished other critical discourses to the margins.
The essays in this volume represent a collective questioning of the poststructuralist ascendancy, and of the assumptions involved therein, by a group of prominent scholars and critics. Assembled at the University of Alabama for the 1992 symposium from which this book takes its title, these scholars were charged with the task of examining the truth-value, methodology, practice, and humanistic status of poststructuralist theories and with speculating on what their conclusions portend for the future of theory. Some of the deficiencies uncovered” in the emperor’s apparel include the failure of poststructuralist theory to answer to the complexities of literary experience, its tendency to be self-ratifying, its betrayal of the feminist achievement, its conflation of style and logic, its attempt to impose apocalyptic finalities on history’s open-endedness, and its ignorance of much in current language philosophy.