Doing What Comes Naturally (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
Something has happened in the quiet world of literary criticism. The signs are everywhere. A string of satiric novels by David Lodge and others have made the zany new vocabularies and conference goings—on of literary theorists into successful middle-brow entertainment. The rise of a new criticism influenced by feminist, psychoanalytic, Marxist, structuralist, and post- structuralist theories has also converged at a number of points with the interests of the mass-circulation press. Under headings such as “the battle over the canon,” newspaper articles around the country have reported controversies over curricular change which some educators denounce, along with specialized theoretical jargon, as disrespectful toward the literary monuments of the past, hence menacing our national greatness. Meanwhile the political controversy surrounding the recently discovered wartime journalism of the late Paul de Man has rendered the term “deconstruction” familiar, if not comprehensible, to readers who had no prior interest in French philosophy. The change is visible even in the photographs which have accompanied this sudden and unexpected publicity. No longer caught in conventional poses, secluded in a book-lined study or a tree-lined tableau of pastoral pedagogy, these newly newsworthy, newly public academics are often emancipated from tweeds, and even fashionably dressed—perhaps by association with the Paris intellectual fashions that seemed to begin all this in the...
(The entire section is 1994 words.)
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