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.
LRB 17 June 1982 | PDF Download