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Outside the Academy

Robert Alter, 13 February 1992

Authors and Authority: English and American Criticism 1750-1990 
by Patrick Parrinder.
Macmillan, 392 pp., £40, August 1991, 0 333 43294 0
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A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Vol. VII: German, Russian and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950 
by René Wellek.
Yale, 458 pp., £26, October 1991, 0 300 05039 9
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... variety lead one to ponder what it is all about and where it may be heading. The book by René Wellek, focused on Central and Eastern European critics, is the penultimate volume of a vast project he began in the Fifties. The two previous volumes dealt respectively with English and American criticism in this same half-century, and chapters of the ...

Comparative Everything

Geoffrey Strickland, 6 March 1980

Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook 
edited by E.S. Shaffer.
Cambridge, 327 pp., £12.50, November 1979, 0 521 22296 6
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... in 1871 in recognition of his services to literary history and the cause of the Risorgimento. René Wellek, appropriately, in this first volume commissioned by the British Comparative Literature Association, contributes an article on De Sanctis’ understanding of what could be meant by ‘realism’. ‘Comparative literature’, as the term was ...

Out of Germany

E.S. Shaffer, 2 October 1980

The German Idea: Four English Writers and the Reception of German Thought 1800-1860 
by Rosemary Ashton.
Cambridge, 245 pp., £14.50, April 1980, 0 521 22560 4
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Criticism in the Wilderness. The Study of Literature Today 
by Geoffrey Hartman.
Yale, 314 pp., £11.40, October 1980, 0 300 02085 6
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... the post-war period has increasingly been seen as the major theorist of German romanticism and (as René Wellek has argued) of European romanticism. ‘The work of criticism is superfluous,’ wrote Schlegel, ‘unless it is itself a work of art as independent of the work it criticises as that is independent of the materials that went into it.’ To find ...

Vico and Berlin

Hans Aarsleff, 5 November 1981

... a case of mere coincidence. It is all a question of faith rather than evidence.In an early review, René Wellek showed that Fisch’s suggestion of Vichian influence on British writers was unfounded, adding the expectation that efforts at substantiation and revision would be forthcoming. Twenty years later ...

Anger and Dismay

Denis Donoghue, 19 July 1984

Literary Education: A Revaluation 
by James Gribble.
Cambridge, 182 pp., £16.50, November 1983, 0 521 25315 2
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Reconstructing Literature 
edited by Laurence Lerner.
Blackwell, 218 pp., £15, August 1983, 0 631 13323 2
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Counter-Modernism in Current Critical Theory 
by Geoffrey Thurley.
Macmillan, 216 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 33436 1
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... as having established the independence of literary criticism from philosophy. In March 1937 René Wellek wrote an open letter to Leavis, arising from the publication of Revaluation. He found much to admire in the book, but regretted that its assumptions were not produced and defended: ‘I could wish that you had stated your assumptions more ...

Ohs and Ahs, Zeros and Ones

Colin Burrow: Lyric Poems, 7 September 2017

Theory of the Lyric 
by Jonathan Culler.
Harvard, 391 pp., £19.95, September 2017, 978 0 674 97970 3
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... widening of lyric’s empire to encompass more or less the entire field of poetry led the critic René Wellek to declare that ‘one must abandon attempts to define the general nature of the lyric or the lyrical. Nothing beyond generalities of the tritest kind can result from it.’ He had a point: the word ‘lyric’ was used in such different ways in ...

In Praise of History

Earl Miner, 1 March 1984

A History of Japanese Literature. Vol. I: The First Thousand Years 
by Shuichi Kato, translated by David Chibbett.
Macmillan, 319 pp., £20, September 1979, 0 333 19882 4
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A History of Japanese Literature. Vol. II: The Years of Isolation 
by Shuichi Kato, translated by Don Sanderson.
Macmillan, 230 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 22088 9
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A History of Japanese Literature. Vol. III: The Modern Years 
by Shuichi Kato, translated by Don Sanderson.
Macmillan, 307 pp., £20, October 1983, 0 333 34133 3
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World within Walls 
by Donald Keene.
Secker, 624 pp., £15, January 1977, 0 436 23266 9
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Modern Japanese Poets and the Nature of Literature 
by Makoto Ueda.
Stanford, 451 pp., $28.50, September 1983, 0 8047 1166 6
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Low City, High City: Tokyo from Edo to the Earthquake 
by Edward Seidensticker.
Allen Lane, 302 pp., £16.95, September 1983, 0 7139 1597 8
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... dismiss it because its practitioners were not all explicit about what they were doing or why. René Wellek is no doubt correct in holding that European literary-historical criticism begins in the 18th century, and Lawrence Lipking right that the arts were historically ordered in England at that time. It seems not to have been noticed that Dryden ...


Marilyn Butler, 2 September 1982

The New Pelican Guide to English Literature. Vol. I: Medieval Literature Part One: Chaucer and the Alliterative Tradition, Vol. II: The Age of Shakespeare, Vol. III: From Donne to Marvell, Vol. IV: From Dryden to Johnson 
edited by Boris Ford.
Penguin, 647 pp., £2.95, March 1982, 0 14 022264 2
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Medieval Writers and their Work: Middle English Literature and its Background 
by J.A. Burrow.
Oxford, 148 pp., £9.95, May 1982, 0 19 289122 7
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Contemporary Writers Series: Saul Bellow, Joe Orton, John Fowles, Kurt Vonnegut, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Pynchon 
by Malcolm Bradbury, C.W.E. Bigsby, Peter Conradi, Jerome Klinkowitz and Blake Morrison.
Methuen, 110 pp., £1.95, May 1982, 0 416 31650 6
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... by American Southern critics like Allen Tate and Cleanth Brooks, was recently summarised by Rene Wellek: There used to be once a perfectly ordered world, which is, for instance, behind Dante’s poetry. This world disintegrated under the impact of science and scepticism. The ‘dissociation of sensibility’ took place at some time in the 17th century. Man ...

Theory of Texts

Jerome McGann, 18 February 1988

Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts: The Panizzi Lectures 1985 
by D.F. McKenzie.
British Library, 80 pp., £10, December 1986, 0 7123 0085 6
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... were separated-off from ‘literary criticism’ and interpretation. The split was codified in René Wellek and Austin Warren’s normative handbook. Theory of Literature, published in 1942, where textual studies and editing were defined as ‘Preliminary Operations’ – investigative lines which seemed too materialistic and positive to be included ...

Not in My House

Mark Ford: Flannery O’Connor, 23 July 2009

Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor 
by Brad Gooch.
Little, Brown, 448 pp., £20, May 2009, 978 0 316 00066 6
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... at once.’ She absorbed the theories of the New Critics from Austin Warren, who was at work with René Wellek on A Theory of Literature and teaching at Iowa at the time, and became familiar with the ideas of Southern Agrarians such as John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate, whose wife, Caroline Gordon, would become an astute reader of drafts of O’Connor’s ...
... influence in England was negligible or non-existent – on this point I am inclined to agree with René Wellek (cited in evidence against me by Professor Aarsleff) and not with Fisch. The words of Ballanche (which I used as an epigraph to my essay), that Vico’s fate was to ‘rise from the grave when he had no more to teach’ – for the Germans had ...

Mortal Scripts

Christopher Norris, 21 April 1983

Writing and the Body 
by Gabriel Josipovici.
Harvester, 142 pp., £15.95, September 1982, 0 7108 0495 4
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The Definition of Literature and Other Essays 
by W.W. Robson.
Cambridge, 267 pp., £19.50, November 1982, 0 521 24495 1
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... and bolts. F.R. Leavis was subject to the same delusion when he fiercely denied (in response to René Wellek) that literary critics could or should attempt a ‘philosophical’ account of their arguments and judgments. Leavis took philosophy to be a business of abstract generalisation, wholly out of touch with the experience of actually discovering ...

Even paranoids have enemies

Frank Kermode, 24 August 1995

F.R. Leavis: A Life in Criticism 
by Ian MacKillop.
Allen Lane, 476 pp., £25, July 1995, 0 7139 9062 7
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... his many controversies Leavis was always unwilling to give ground and could sometimes be evasive. René Wellek, a Czech-American scholar and a historian of criticism, once politely challenged him to state the theoretical basis of his criticism. Leavis speedily and rather aggressively replied that nothing of the sort was needed, his criteria and his ...

Old Literature and its Enemies

Claude Rawson, 25 April 1991

The Death of Literature 
by Alvin Kernan.
Yale, 230 pp., £18.95, October 1990, 0 300 04783 5
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Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopedia, Genealogy and Tradition 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Duckworth, 241 pp., £12.95, August 1990, 0 7156 2337 0
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Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man 
by David Lehman.
Poseidon, 318 pp., $21.95, February 1991, 0 671 68239 3
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... the West as recently as two or three generations ago.’ In the Second World of Eastern Europe, as René Wellek once pointed out, literature was also taken very seriously: seriously enough to be written and read at great personal risk, and to be thought worth suppressing by the authorities. Certainly the universities provided very little time or personnel ...

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