Theory, For Instance: Or on the necessity of a style of theory

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper/skriftligt oplægForskning


This paper takes its starting point in a short poem by Wallace Stevens from 1917, which incidentally bears the title “Theory”. The poem can be read as a parable of theory, i.e., as something literally ’thrown beside’ theory (cf. OED: “< ancient Greek: parabole: a placing side by side“). In the philosophical tradition this is also how the style of theory has been figured, that is to say: as something that is incidental to it or just happens to be around as so much paraphernalia. In my reading of Stevens’ poem I shall argue that this is exactly the position from which Stevens takes off when he assumes the task of writing a personified portrait of theory. Theory emerges as always beside(s) itself in what constitutes its style, but the poem also suggests that theory’s style is what gives theory both its power and its contingency. Figured as a duchess Theoria is only capable of retaining her power and detachment from Praxis through the practice of a certain style. Otherwise, she remains powerless and isolated as a mere title without substance. Just as a duchess needs her “carriage“, her “vestibule” and her “high bed sheltered by curtains” in order to place her in a position from which to rule her duchy, so theory needs its stylistic features to rule the world. And Stevens’s poem is a good example of how theory is at the hands of literature for gaining power through style.
Antal sider6
StatusUdgivet - 2009
BegivenhedStyle in Theory/Styling Theory - Department of English, University of Malta, Valletta, Malta
Varighed: 26 nov. 200929 nov. 2009


KonferenceStyle in Theory/Styling Theory
LokationDepartment of English, University of Malta


Balle, S. H. (2009). Theory, For Instance: Or on the necessity of a style of theory. Afhandling præsenteret på Style in Theory/Styling Theory, Valletta, Malta.