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.
CONRAD’S INCONCEIVABLE HISTORY
It is an old commonplace that modernist art is, among other things, reflexive, drawn more or less strongly to explore the material element of its existence—pigment, say, or language. With the so-called linguistic turn in the human sciences, and specifically the literary criticism of the past forty years, the commonplace has rejuvenated itself, and pressed its interpretive claims with corresponding energy and confidence across an ever-wider field of literary history. Thus it is that in recent decades Joseph Conrad too has come to be read as yet another exemplary modern, as questioning of his medium, with its delphic promises of sincerity and truth, as of human motives. There is a good deal to explore here, as Edward Said has shown, in an early and distinguished contribution to this critical discussion. However, there is also an attendant danger. The interpretive appeal to ‘language’, conceived just so abstractly, settles rather little. The more often and more widely it is reiterated, the less it explains.
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In response to a bold reconstruction of Anglophone literary studies challenging the political self-understanding of the reigning historicism and looking to a new, interventionist departure on the left, some critical considerations on disciplinary history, the place of ‘knowledge’ in the fictional order, as well as the discourses that address it, and the precedent of Leavis and his followers.
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.
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.