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Lois Tyson's Critical Theory Today: An Overview of Theory Obfuscated by the Personal

Understanding the intent of a piece of work – visual art, literature,

film or whatever – doesn’t require a huge amount of thought. Guessing and providing at least a modicum of proof suffices. However, for the last few millennia, people have been attempting to constitute specific strategies by which to understand art. It’s referred to as critical theory and there’re more modes of thought associated with it than world religions. I don’t even think that’s hyperbole.

So, while no single school of thought is actually one hundred percent correct – that’d be impossible – folks still subscribe to one or the other. How might one gain entrance into this surreal world of semantics, you ask? Well, picking up Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today isn’t the worst way to begin. Of course, the only reason those pages passed before my eyes was prompted by a class, but that’s how it goes.

There’s no such thing as a definitive overview, on any topic, but in her book Tyson attempts to distill the basic tenets of a variety of different approaches to examining a work. Each section contains a bit of background and some explanation of how to apply the theory. What becomes endlessly tedious are the individual readings, using each theory, to examine and then re-examine F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. And while everyone was forced to read it at some point, it’s actually better than one might recall. That, however, doesn’t make the tenth examination of it any better.

What’s most interesting is the fact that all of these strategies could very easily be turned around and used on this particular author to pick apart her own work. That’d probably be frowned upon by not just the writer of this book, but academia in general. After wading through the pages of Critical Theory Today, though, it becomes pretty clear Tyson is working from an individual perspective on each of this writings – that’s human and unavoidable. But then, readers should wonder what the point of writing in more positive tones about Feminist theory than a few other perspectives.

That aside, a basic refrain of the downtrodden women echoes throughout each of Tyson’s explications of these ideas. There’s no reason that her discomfort at being the only women in a graduate program need be shuffled onto the head of the program, whether or not he was intimidated by the author. Even it did happen – and it well may have – the scenario was constructed in Tyson’s mind. The guy might just have had the runs and needed to excuse himself.