The Origin of Theory Driven

Sometime in the early 1990s, if I remember correctly, the New York Times Magazine ran a fashion ad, featuring two young models on a motorcycle, wearing leather and frilly white-cuffed shirts. Edwardians on a bike. At the time, I was managing editor of Critical Inquiry. I was in search of a logo; our masthead, designed by Cameron Poulter, had served us well, but we needed to augment it. The large space between the two words has always signified, to me, a divide between the subjective and the objective. A divide that signals the necessity of a critical inquiry. And yet each term can stand on its own. The space allows them to be joined and yet independent.

And the ad gave me an idea. I had been playing with a possible catch phrase, something I had picked up from Michael Herr’s Dispatches: Agile Mobile Hostile. It belonged to Air Cavalry, and I wasn’t about to take it, though I did type it out on my computer for a screen saver. I thought it captured CI’s intent to provide high-powered intellectual content (agile) that reacted to today’s topics (mobile) with powerful critique (hostile). Then came the idea. The motorcycle stands for hostile agile and mobile all at once. And, not only that, but only the cool kids ride one. Like the Hell’s Angels in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. I remembered something Lauren Berlant had said; she was a relatively new coeditor at the journal. To differentiate our publication, she said we were theory driven. I substituted the words “Harley Davidson” on their shield-and-bar logo for “Theory Driven.” Orange and black and white letters. Instantly recognizable.

But was it trademark infringement? I took my hand-drawn design to my boss, the manager of journals division of the University of Chicago Press. It was around 1:00 pm, and my boss was returning from a celebratory lunch. I caught up with him at the front of the press building. He was in high spirits. I got right to it. I showed him my design. Would he have any problem with me making t-shirts with the design on it? We would hand it out to our authors and other interested people at the Modern Language Association meeting, which was coming up and offered a perfect forum for a new marketing idea. That’s not Harley’s logo, that’s our logo! he exclaimed, and I ordered 100 t-shirts. When people started wearing them, the Chronicle of Higher Education called. We made their Notes section, following a blurb on what prisoners typically read in prison libraries. That was my next project. Get CI into prisons.