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This article is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.

The Survival of Theory I: 'He Never Said That' Raymond Tallis

In 1988, I published a couple of books critical of post-Saussurean theory - Not Saussure (Macmillan) and In Defence of Realism (Edward Arnold). The expectations I had when I wrote these books seem in retrospect to have been over-optimistic. I confidently anticipated that the purveyors of post-Saussurean 'theory' would be stopped in their tracks. After all, I thought I had demonstrated the following beyond doubt:

(a) the most important ideas in post-Saussurean theory are mistaken - in particular they are based upon a deep misunderstanding of the nature of language, arising out of a mis-reading of Saussure;
(b) in the unlikely event of the crucial ideas of post-Saussurean theory being true, their promulgation would be pragmatically self-refutating;
and (c) even if the ideas were true and their promulgation not pragmatically self-refuting, they would not have any implications for literary theory or criticism or indeed for any specific human activity other than the pursuit of tenure in Humanities departments in institutes of higher education.


I expected a scandal to result and the post-Saussureans to die of shame or to apply for re-training as useful citizens. I was astonished when the arguments of both books were largely ignored and it was business as usual.

Not Saussure and In Defence of Realism were by no means the only serious attempts to identify the fallacies at the heart of post-Saussurean thought. John Searle made a telling attack in the late 1970s ('Reiterating the differences: ...


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