What Your Favorite Literary Theorist Says About You

When I started grad school, I was ready for an insane amount of reading and having multiple 20-plus-page papers due in the same week. What I wasn’t prepared for, nay, wasn’t emotionally ready for, was literary theory.

Lit theory was a cornerstone of my English grad program, and anyone who has gone through a similar program knows what a blessing and a curse this can be. On one hand, you need to know a lot about lit theory if you ever want to be taken seriously in the academic world. So, being able to spout off Homi Bhabha’s ideas about hybridization or locate instances of heteroglossia in a text are a must. On the other hand, trying to read Jacques Derrida for the first time had me in tears. I’m pretty sure this is a totally normal reaction to learning about différance, though.

Even though lit theory routinely gave us headaches previously reserved only for the worst of hangovers, my classmates and I began finding ourselves weirdly drawn to different theorists. We drank the English grad school Kool Aid: We started to make up inside jokes about Lacan and brought up Althusser in normal conversations... as you do. Most importantly, however, we picked favorites.

So, here are some names you’ve probably seen on your grad school syllabus. Deciding who your favorite theorist is says a lot about you and your interests, so pick wisely (I’m looking at you, Freud fans).

If your favorite theorist was...

Judith Butler

People who like Judith Butler have a lot of the same problems as people who like pumpkin spice lattes. Judith Butler is great and groundbreaking and extremely important (just like PSLs). But everyone seems to love her and understand what she’s talking about (performativity! It seems so simple and usable!). So, sometimes, you may get accused of being kind of, well, basic when you write about her. But just because a lot of people like to quote her doesn’t mean that she isn’t fantastic, so shrug off the haters and do you.

Jacques Derrida

I’m not entirely sure what to say about you, because I’m never entirely sure what you’re talking about. Which is a good thing, because you’re operating at a crazy level beyond the understanding of mere mortals like me. You’re interested in little details, and pay attention to things that other people would never notice (hence the différence/différance thing). And hey, who needs stupid, confining things like centers, anyway? Though sometimes you may give your friends headaches with your need to deconstruct EVERYTHING.

Hélène Cixous

Someone’s probably called you a feminazi before, haven’t they? But that’s OK, because you’ll never let The Man bring you down. Sure, people may think you’re a little too extreme sometimes (maybe calm down with all of the essentialism stuff, and accept that using syntax doesn’t mean that you’re bowing to the patriarchy), but who cares? You’re a strong, independent woman with an arsenal of emasculating jokes; you’ll be just fine.

Sigmund Freud

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LOL you’re super into your mom, aren’t you? Just kidding (kinda). You may or may not think everything is related to sex, but you definitely overthink things. You probably overanalyze nearly every text you receive, and accuse a lot of people of repressing things. You also spend way too much time talking about your dreams. Sometimes a horse is just a horse, and not a symbol for a fear of being castrated, y'know?

Michel Foucault

You’re extremely into power dynamics (it’s a moving substrate, amirite?). You like to see how power can shift during any given situation, and you’re very mindful of how fleeting being on top really is. Still, you know that power isn’t central, and even at your weakest you still have some kind of power, no matter how small. So basically you’re really annoying to get into fights with, because at some point during the argument you’ll probably bring all of this up.

Jacques Lacan

You’re a lot like Freud, but more confusing and more interested in language. Still pretty into moms, though. Sorry if it seems like I’m selling you short, but this is pretty much all I understood about Lacan. If nothing else, though, you’re great for dick jokes (phallus jokes, sorry).

Karl Marx

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There are two kinds of Marx fans: people who actually understand Marx, and people who think they understand Marx. If you’re the “We should all just, like, share stuff because down with the Man” Marx fan, go actually read Marx, please. If you’re the former, let’s talk. You’re interested in people more than abstract ideas; after all, Marxism tends to deal with the actual actions and living conditions of people. You’re political, and probably a little better informed about the world than the average person (or at least are more invested in what’s going on in it). Not everyone may agree with your views, but at least you can talk about them intelligently!

Homi K. Bhabha

You know so many words, and you attempt to use them all as often as possible. You’re super-smart, obviously, but sometimes you get criticized for being needlessly confusing, or for hiding a lack of ideas behind jargon. But hey, haters gonna hate, right? You’ll have to settle with having tons of published books and articles and being a top thinker in your field.

Martin Heidegger

Let’s be real for a second: You’re kind of an extremist. And by kind of, I mean you totally are, and it's not pretty. You’re all about personal affirmation and breaking out of the drudgery of Dasein, which is totally cool. Affirm yo’self. But also maybe be willing to accept that there are multiple ways of affirming yourself, because not everyone is the same. Multiple ideologies are a good thing!