English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Questions on Walter Benn Michaels
and Steven Knapp's "Against Theory"

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1. According to Michaels and Knapp, what are the two forms of contemporary theory? What key mistake do they say that adherents of both forms make?

2. What case about our assumptions concerning "intentionality" does Michaels and Knapp's "wave poem" analogy help them set forth? What assumption do they say we make when we see a set of marks recognizable as writing? What happens if we are unable to make that assumption?

3. In their analysis of deconstructive theorist Paul de Man, Michaels and Knapp bring up one of his favorite examples: in the Confessions, Rousseau says that when questioned about the disappearance of a household item, for no reason he blurted out the name of a fellow servant, "Marion," thus condemning the bearer of that name to a shameful dismissal. What lesson do Michaels and Knapp say de Man draws from that episode, and why do they disagree with his conclusion?

4. What insights, according to Michaels and Knapp, does reader-response critic Stanley Fish (cf. Surprised by Sin, Is There a Text in this Class?, and other interesting works) offer by way of an "attack on method"? Why do they nonetheless argue that Fish engages in theoretical argumentation?

5. At the end of their essay, Michaels and Knapp argue that all theorists are misguided in trying to derive practice from pre-existing theoretical schemes; Michaels and Knapp insist that "the theoretical enterprise should . . . come to an end." Such a sweeping change seems unlikely, but what might be the desired effect of such a proposal?

6. Are Michaels and Knapp themselves "doing theory"? Why or why not?

Edition: The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393974294.