Four Steps to Theoretical Enlightement

To?wrap my head around a concept, I allow my?mind?full immersion. This is how I first?attempt understanding. Sometimes I let?it wash over me twice.?When?the final spin cycle stops,?I am pretty successfully brainwashed. So yes, at this stage I?am complicit in allowing theory to use?me.?I let it shape my view so I can better see what the theorist saw when composing their thoughts. Not to worry. This is a temporary state. My?mind tends to get dirty again fairly soon.

New Lens on?LifeOnce brainwashed, I have a new lens with which to?view the world – with an entirely new, if not foreign, perspective.?At this stage, I no longer allow theory to?wag the dog. It’s fun to do Rubinesque readings of my wedding or draw parallels between a theorist and Star Trek villains. (I think I’m generally still dizzy from the spin cycle,?having?a good time?while high?on trace detergent.) This is the last chance to play with?free association?before getting down to business.?

Connect the?DotsCONVERSATION
I’m not interested in pulling this stuff out at cocktail parties, but I do find it difficult to refrain in my classes from connecting dots?between my classes,?picking and presenting?bits in Theory, Modern Poetry, Victorian Lit and Fiction Writing… I also like to?offer?tasty bites to my husband over coffee, saying things like, “Did you know that, as a lawyer,?you’re?part of the oppressive state apparatus? That is SO not cool.”

Placing class discussion under the category of group work, I find this most helpful in?discovering theoretical?contradictions or failings. My greatest problem is my inability to ask?good questions of the text, leaving me unable?to discover where?shortcomings lie until issues are brought up?in class or raised on blogs. I could be standing smack dab in the middle of a contradiction and still looking for it.

What I already do:
I have a variety of tricks to root myself more deeply in what I’m trying to learn. In Norton, the introduction is always helpful. I’ve also stuck my nose in Barry’s book. I do a quick search for “.edu” sites hosting additional info on the theorist too. In?all, I’ve?learned where theorists fit into the historical context, where their?main influence comes from, and how their ideas?impact the world.

What I’d like to do more of:
Commenting on classmates’ blogs after class discussion is?a far better?excercise of?my more complete knowledge, particularly since my own posts are generally half-formed ideas and tinkerings. I?will even go so far to say that I’d be willing to change gears, contrary to my original opinion, posting to my blog after the class discussion. Had we taken this approach from the start, it would have been helpful in pulling together the theory carnival. This way we wouldn’t be high fiving each other saying, “Yeah, I saw that too!” only to find that?our self-derived information was erroneous and spreading like a nasty virus.


  1. kmiddleton says:

    There’s a bit of a bind, here, Kim, in thinking through the desire to get theory and to ask good questions about it. As you comment on your own process, in reading and re-reading, you take on the perspective of the theorist–always a good move to try to understand something. The question asking, however, generally stems from the ways that your own experience interrogates the integrity of the theory. Sartre thought he had it all figured out, but that was because he had never lived as a black man in a post-colonial culture.

    So perhaps the next step for you is to think about how your own experience matches or contradicts the theory at hand. After, of course, you’ve taken on that theorist’s perspective, of course…

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