Please consider downloading the latest version of Internet Explorer
to experience this site as intended.
Tools Search Main Menu

In Review

COMPARATIVE LITERATUREBack to the Future? Critic Robert Doran traces the roots of contemporary cultural politics.

Turned-up collars and acid-washed jeans conjure up the 1980s at a glance. For scholars, the faces of critical theorists Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are just as evocative, icons of an intellectual movement that gained momentum through the 1960s and ’70s, and then peaked and ebbed in the ’80s. But Robert Doran, a professor of French and comparative literature, argues that critical theory has “become synonymous with the ethical and political questions that agitate our times.”

In The Ethics of Theory: Philosophy, History, Literature (Bloomsbury, 2017), he investigates how critical theory—a major area of inquiry for humanities scholars and social scientists in the late 20th century—pivoted from a narrow investigation of meaning and text to a broad engagement with culture and politics.

An overview of prominent critical theorists reveals the breadth of their interests. “A lot of people think of theory as a kind of toolbox” for scholarship, he says. “You take this and you take that [mode of analysis]—you take whatever seems to work for you. But these ideas came at a particular time and have a particular meaning. You can’t just take them out of context, and that’s what I try to rectify, to some extent, in this book.”

In his book, Doran explores the influence of several key figures in critical theory. Here’s a look at some of them.

—Kathleen McGarvey