The first four books would normally be described as literary criticism, though they exhibit a considerable variety of interests, sociological, historical, theoretical; in Harold Bloom's case ordinary language is defeated, for we need some such compound as cabbalistic-rhapsodic. None of them shows much interest in British writing, or the British literary scene, or in literary criticism as it is now practised and taught here. Hohendahl limits himself to the role and operations of criticism in West German society; he might have said more about the ways in which it works here and in the US, for the situations are not, it appears, radically different, but his argument is dominated by the critical theory of Frankfurt, and especially of Habermas. Todorov's book is a lively and learned history of certain phases of sign and symbol theory, a subject one can imagine somebody here taking on: but the result would be very differently conceived, and Coleridge, and probably nowadays Hamann, would get more than passing mention. Bloom is sui generis, but he is also wholly American, wholly unEnglish. Genette, though by any unprejudiced standard an extraordinarily fine critic, is also interested in systematic literary theory - though it is an opinion now strongly maintained in this country that the second part of that statement flatly contradicts the first.
LRB 7 October 1982 | PDF Download