Faculty at War

Tom Paulin gives his view of teachers of English

  • Re-Reading English edited by Peter Widdowson
    Methuen, 246 pp, £7.95, March 1982, ISBN 0 416 31150 4
  • Against Criticism by Iain McGilchrist
    Faber, 271 pp, £12.50, May 1982, ISBN 0 571 11922 0

Many academic teachers of English are at the moment united in the dismayed recognition that their subject is in a state of acute crisis. Some nourish the suspicion that English literature isn’t properly an academic subject, while others believe that its study can be revitalised by adopting structuralist procedures and developing a ‘materialist criticism’. Partly, the crisis which now afflicts English studies is a reflection of a more general cultural atmosphere – for example, that futureless and pastless sense of blankness which is for various reasons the quality that distinguishes the present generation of students. It could also be seen as a response to the period of critical exhaustion that followed the puritan revolution which Leavis and his disciples led many years ago. And it could be interpreted as a reaction against the failure of traditional scholarly procedures to recognise that they were addressing an audience which increasingly believed in ‘relevance’. At all events, English studies is currently experiencing a major crisis of confidence and it is to this unhealthy condition that Re-Reading English is addressed.

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