Theory After Theory
An Intellectual History of Literary Theory From 1950 to the Early 21st Century
  • Publication Date: June 14, 2010
  • ISBN: 9781551119335 / 1551119331
  • 352 pages; 6" x 9"

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Theory After Theory

An Intellectual History of Literary Theory From 1950 to the Early 21st Century

  • Publication Date: June 14, 2010
  • ISBN: 9781551119335 / 1551119331
  • 352 pages; 6" x 9"

Theory After Theory provides an overview of developments in literary theory after 1950. It is intended both as a handbook for readers to learn about theory and an intellectual history of the recent past in literary criticism for those interested in seeing how it fits in with the larger culture. Accessible but rigorous, this book provides a wealth of historical and intellectual context that allows the reader to make sense of the movements in recent literary theory.


Theory After Theory is a must-read guide for professors and students interested in learning about the theories of the past and—as the title of the study suggests—the possibilities for creating theory in the present and future.” — Ignacio López-Calvo, Chasqui

“Nicholas Birns contends that ‘It is important to keep theorizing, in whatever way possible.’ To keep the possibility open we need to know where theory has been. Birns’ book provides exemplary knowledge. It is an admirably precise and even-handed account of the wave after wave of theory that have shaped and inspired us. Readers will find their purview refreshed by Birns’ judicious re-statements and evaluations, and will find that he is a guide to the future of theory as well as to the past.” — Robert L. Caserio, Pennsylvania State University

Theory After Theory is a beautifully organized, accessibly written, and helpful survey of a challenging body of material. Whether you are a newcomer to literary theory or a more seasoned reader looking to refresh your memory or connect the dots, this book offers generous assessments and valuable insights at every turn. With illuminating examples and useful summaries, the book sets out to explain why literary theory had the ‘massive, seismic impact’ upon the field that it had. Although it may be an impossible task to describe that impact in a single volume, Theory After Theory comes as close to doing so—and doing it admirably well—as any source I have yet encountered. That it does so with breathtaking clarity makes it an invaluable book.” — Devoney Looser, University of Missouri at Columbia

“Rather than simply parsing leading lights, from Foucault and Derrida to today’s cognitive critics, Birns historicizes theory’s long modern arc. Describing theory’s emergence as a challenge to the received wisdom of New Criticism, its ever-expanding political ambitions, and the current oscillation between dogma, irrelevance, and new possibilities, Theory After Theory compels us to keep paying attention. Lucidly written, and with breathtaking command of the critical literature, Birns’s guided tour of theory’s past, present, and future makes invigorating reading for students and mature scholars alike.” — Lauren Goodlad, University of Illinois at Urbana

Author’s Note
Preface: Beyond the “Resolved Symbolic”

CHAPTER ONE: Foucault:
Deconstructing Categories


Deconstructing Hierarchies

CHAPTER THREE: Deconstructing Gender:
Feminist Theory

CHAPTER FOUR: Deconstructing Privilege:
Anti-Racist Theory

CHAPTER FIVE: Deconstructing Centrality:
Post-Colonial Theory

CHAPTER SIX: Deconstructing Normativity:

Queer Theory

CHAPTER SEVEN: Taking Account of Deconstruction:
Theory in the Twenty-First Century


Nicholas Birns is Associate Teaching Professor of Literature at Eugene Lang College, The New School,
New York. He has published widely on postcolonial and modernist literature.