Jeffrey Di Leo first became interested in theory and critique when he was a student in college, and that interest recently resulted in a book.
“In terms of literature, theory provided a different and much deeper, complicated way of looking at literature, and that fascinated me,” said Di Leo, dean of the UHV School of Arts & Sciences.
Di Leo recently edited the book “Dead Theory: Derrida, Death, and the Afterlife of Theory.” The book was published by Bloomsbury Academic in London. It consists of an introduction written by Di Leo and 11 scholarly essays by various writers. The essays are divided into three sections: Theory, Theorists, Death; Derrida, Death, Theory; and Politics, Death, Theory.
The book is intended for upper-level undergraduate or graduate courses on theory. The key issue it explores is what becomes of theory after the passing of some of its major figures, Di Leo said.
Theory came to dominance in universities in the 1960s, Di Leo said. And ever since, the study of literature has not been the same.
Jacques Derrida was a philosopher who was one of the prominent proponents of theory, and his work had a profound impact on Di Leo. Derrida was most well-known for his work in deconstruction, an approach that challenged many of the assumptions in Western culture and philosophy. Derrida died in 2004.
“This project comes at the end of a period when some of the great figures of theory are dying,” Di Leo said. “Now, the question remains, will their work and ideas live on, or will theory die with these masters?”
In the introduction, Di Leo draws a comparison between the current transitional period and the timeless popularity of the music of artists such as David Bowie and the Rolling Stones. While these artists were once cutting-edge and controversial, they have become sources of nostalgia.
“They are reminders of a time when the music industry was a different place,” Di Leo wrote. “While the theory industry continues to release archival and greatest hits volumes of Derrida, Darthes and de Man, their impact is more to remind of days gone by than serious engagements of the issues of the day.”
Di Leo’s book examines the question of whether a new generation will continue to move theory forward.
“The death of the masters of theory calls for us to engage the present moment without their shelter and spiritual protection,” he wrote in the introduction. “The real is now our charge and will ultimately come to define who we are and our signature to those who follow in our path. Question is, will we rise to the task or hide behind the voices of our masters?”
The book is available through Amazon or the publisher.