Write a detailed account of the sociocultural context in which literary theory emerged as a subject of serious concern as Terry Eagleton explains in “The Rise of English.”

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A detailed account of the sociocultural context in which literary theory emerged as a subject of serious concern, as Terry Eagleton explains in “The Rise of English,” involves the decline of religion and the rise of capitalism and mass culture.

Eagleton writes that at first, literature had a wide definition. It included history, poems, and letters, and what made a work literary didn’t link to theory but to “whether it conformed to certain standards of ‘polite letters.’ ” By the mid-1800s, religion was waning and capitalism was growing. Think about how Eagleton refers to English studies or literary theory as an “ideology” and how that ideology could take the place of religion and counteract the adverse impact of the capitalist economy.

Eagleton writes, “The language of commercial society was abstract and anemic: it had lost touch with the living roots of sensuous experience.” Literary theory provided a defense against the “onslaught” of mass culture. Poems like T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” sought to “revive in the reader a sense of common identity in the blood and guts.”

Eagleton presents the continued development of literary theory with scorn. The emphasis on countering the influence of capitalism turned “the poem into a fetish.” With the rise of New Criticism, literary theory became about gatekeeping and viewing the text in a hyper-specific way. Check out how Eagleton says New Criticism mimicked “the technocratic society” that, at one time, literary theory was supposed to oppose.

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