PRINT September 1993

The Lightness of Theory

The question is how light or heavy we are—the problem of our “specific gravity.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887

P.M. and M.C.

ONE CRITICAL REFLECTION we might engage in today concerns what “theory” is or has become for us. Not so long ago, across much of “advanced” visual culture, a typical short answer to the question “What is theory?” would have been “post-Modern, ever more post-Modern!” I myself had little use for this category, and some years ago tried to analyze how it had arisen and become so prevalent.1 The designation nevertheless lives on. But it has become too vague and elastic to mean much, and even journalists are growing less fond of it. In fact, post-Modernism is receding from us to the point where one may well wonder what it once was.

Thus, Jean-François Lyotard worries about the “contradictions of the post-Modern” in a work by that title to appear this fall in Paris, while Hal

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