Consider this. For much of the past century, some 70 years or so, the historical self-understanding of professional literary studies in the Anglo-American zone has been radically confused. Intellectual genealogies have been garbled; precious working resources have been set aside; priorities have been misjudged and alignments misconstrued. An entire historical situation has been wrongly evaluated by most of the left in the field. So argues Joseph North, in a book whose stolen title is itself a sign of iconoclastic intent: Literary Criticism was—is—the title of ‘a short history’ published by two leading exponents of the New Criticism just 40 years ago. The difference, as the subtitle announces, is that this new one is ‘political’, and the account it offers is correspondingly ‘lean’—or even skeletal, viewed by the lights of conventional intellectual history. But this is avowedly ‘strategic history’, concerned to elucidate the ‘main lines of force’ in its theatre of operations, which is the ‘terrain of sensibility’. Its aim is to give ‘a rapid, synoptic overview of the basic paradigms that have governed the academic criticism of literature in much of the English-speaking world for the last century or so’, with a view to radical reconstruction.
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By the same authors:
William Empson, Nonesuch
Francis Mulhern on Michael Wood, On Empson. Reclaiming the heterodox thinker for literary criticism.
A Tory Tribune?
Francis Mulhern on Ferdinand Mount, English Voices: Lives, Landscapes, Laments. The literary and political sensibility of Britain’s most independent-minded Conservative thinker, aide to Margaret Thatcher, admirer of Virginia Woolf, and devotee of William Gladstone.
Francis Mulhern on David Bromwich, The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke. Thought-world of the liberal ideologue of counter-revolution.
Afterlives of the Commune
Francis Mulhern on Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury. Political imaginary and afterlives of the Paris Commune.
A Party of Latecomers
Over the past decade the American political-intellectual scene has undergone a significant change with the emergence of a lively nexus of journals, ideas and activities, constituting a new kind of cultural left. Francis Mulhern etches the portrait of the Brooklyn-based n+1, which has been both forerunner and intellectual flagship of this effervescence.
Francis Mulhern on Rob Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel. The protean cult of Eric Blair finds its latest iteration.
Francis Mulhern on Eric Hobsbawm, Fractured Times. Considerations on the fates of bourgeois high culture, avant-gardes and mass art, in the ‘age of extremes’ and beyond.
Culture and Society, Then and Now
The idea of culture in Raymond Williams’s classic work, and discrepant readings of it, fifty years on. Gestation amid CP debates on the English tradition, hidden affinities with the Frankfurt School, and counterposition to the verities of today’s liberal multiculturalism.
Conrad’s Inconceivable History
The fascination of Joseph Conrad’s novels with the transformative pressures of capitalist modernity threatens a revelation so intolerable, Mulhern suggests, that it can only be contained within dense narrative strategies of deferral and disavowal.
What is Cultural Criticism?
Meanings of culture, the place of politics and role of intellectuals in the practice of criticism, as conceived since Arnold. Replying to Stefan Collini in NLR 18, Francis Mulhern asks how far the arts of a conversible portraiture bear on a critical agenda.