Neel, “Reclaiming Our Theoretical Heritage”

Jasper. "Reclaiming Our Theoretical Heritage: A Big Fish Tale."
Olson 3-11.

Neel complicates the theory and practice polarities; he argues,
quite convincingly, that theory is not expendable. Advanced through
analogies to whaling, the argument begins with an account of the Makah
tribe’s resumption of whaling practices in the Pacific Northwest in an effort to
restore cultural heritage. Their whaling praxis was compromised and so they
sought to restore it. Neel tests the limits of this decision, noting that
countertheories were well in place "by the time such a practice could be
demonstrated theoretically as socially desirable" (5).

From here, Neel works through multiple possible readings of the story of
and the whale–the least probable of which is a literal reading. In
other words, the perpetually re-cast, re-framed, re-interpreted allegory
suggests the shifting enactments of theory.

Ultimately, this is an argument for "Reclaiming Theory." Neel contends
that "Composition becomes mature, however, able to sustain itself, when it
constantly scrutinizes its theoretical underpinnings" (9). He goes on, "It would
be naive to retreat from theory, and it would be exceedingly selfish,
because the only faculty who truly have the option of doing so already have
tenure and have already passed through the process of finding a voice with which
to speak" (10).

"Theory forces one to interrogate one’s own position. Ignorance of
theory usually permits one to remain unaware that one holds a position, one of
many possible positions, a position that can change. Ignorance of theory blinds
one to the knowledge that changing one’s position changes what one sees and how
one sees it" (11).

"And does it matter if the Native Americans re-create the whale hunt using
modern technology? Radar and sonar to find the whales? Motorized boats to
catch them? Harpoon canons that are much more accurate and have far greater
range and power than harpoons thrown by hand?" (3).

"For the practitioner, Stanley Fish’s old T-shirt with the question, Sure
it works in practice but will it work in theory
? is an ironic description,
not an in-joke" (3).