Not to jump the gun, but that lecture Jon points to (from 2004, I believe) is certainly worth a look. So here's that link again. Hopefully others will jump in this week with posts on other subjects, in the meantime.
It occurs to me that "Theory"–to use of course the popular, bastardized, reductive idiom–has always been about grappling with issues of appropriation and responsibility, not least of all (though hardly exclusively) with regard to the (rather derisively and somewhat jealously) so-called, "Great Celebrity Theorists" themselves. Contrary to those who accuse "Theory" of being smug and imperial beyond repair, let's venture to say that like all good philosophers, "Theorists" take self-criticism seriously, and indeed always have. Contestable or mis-appropriations, while hardly preventable in their entirety, as Spivak notes, (not least of all in an imperfect and crooked world, one might say, not to mention one of fallible universities and students), are often occasion for further clarification and refinement. Dealing patiently with the often tedious tendency of academia and academics to classify every potential thought into various bins, identity-groups or disciplines, with the often concomitant implied ability to then have done with them, has always been especially a mark of "Theory" or "Theory's" generosity, or so it seems to me. Which is to say, there may also be good reason for "Theory" to be especially misappropriation-prone. (Of course I am playing a role here, to some degree, of the unapologetic and smart-alec* defender of something–"Theory"–which I have often criticized, both in general and, what is assuredly more (at least potentially) helpful, in particular. But if any word has earned its "scare" quotes, over decades of academic turf battles and culture warrior re-stagings, this word, "Theory" would most likely be that word.)
Anyway, this grappling with appropriations and responsibilities, and in particular this relentless self-criticism of one's own language (never an end in itself, rather obviously), has always been most productively recognized as a sort of step on the way toward something yet to-come, that is, toward a future that must be prepared for, albeit without the self-assurance and self-comfort of a "model" that would then strictly delineate or provide a sense of closure. A making-room, if you will, though never quite enough to lose oneself or drown in, to disappear or dissolve into, entirely. (In any case, suffice to say that such an alternative model as "Theory" would perhaps like to anticipate, has yet to present itself. Would it be entirely absurd to wonder if such uncertainty as to the efficacy let alone self-presence, or exigency, of any future "model" may well be the defining mark of "our time"? Not to get any more melodramatic and ridiculous than may be called for, of course. Some generalizations being probably best left unsaid.) But to ascribe to this move of keeping the horizon open a mere logical fallability or category error (if not contagion, of imperial, yet profoundly cloistered hubris, &c.) seems to me a rather uncharitable mistake, if not a wide-open invitation to misreading.
"Theory", if it is anything, would seem to be united as an intellectual "movement" (one undoubtedly with deep roots) by its resistance to the present, a resistance which in no way takes the form of an evasion. A resistance furthermore not to be confused, as Spivak herself declares, with merely "teaching resistance talk." So anyway, one supposes that any halfway charitable discussion should perhaps start there. With "Theory's" (provided this word holds any genuine and lasting interest, as an Americanized slogan for "poststructuralism" and/or "continental" philosophy) -more than abundant examples of self-criticism. Hopefully, you know, the discussion would go on from there as well.
Several things from the talk stand out. Spivak remarks on (Derrida's reading of) Nietzsche:
Do not excuse Nietzsche from use by the Nazis, saying "it was wrong." There was something there. Do not accuse Nietzsche of having being used by the Nazis and throw him away. Enter the protocol of his texts, and turn him around, and use him....
To bring this boring post to a close, and at the risk of helping the reader not to watch the entire thing, I have transcribed Spivak's summarizing appeal:
Let us not accuse ourselves; but let us not excuse ourselves...We must make place for logic as not just the property of Europe. We must make place to see how it is held within other kinds of thick and rich knowledge systems. And protect secularism and the state. Imagine and invent a secularism taken away from the history of the seculum and the imperium...to take it away from that narrative, but preserve its abstract outlines, beyond the..[beyond] trying to find...just some synonym for secularism...To learn, to protect a reason that must be our ally, in a world that is being put together more and more with the false promise of level playing-fields but [is] deeply divided by class apartheid, to protect reason as our ally, contained within other kinds of systems, to grant the subaltern the possibility of logic, and there, the two things that one must protect are...the abstract understanding of secularism, and an abstract understanding of the state.
The questions that follow also seem worthy of note. In fact the entire lecture, for those who prefer that sort of personal, bodily medium (which let's face it, we all do), provides I think much room for productive clarification and refinement, which is hardly to rule out productive disagreement.