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This review is taken from PN Review 75, Volume 17 Number 1, September - October 1990.

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS Bernard Bergonzi, Exploding English: Criticism, Theory, Culture (OUP) £25
Ian Hunter, Culture and Government: The Emergence of Literary Education (Macmillan) £35
Thomas Docherty, After Theory: Postmodernism /postmarxism (Routledge) £30

As we enter the last decade of the 20th century, the sense of endings - and possible beginnings - is growing. One ending - a minor cadence, perhaps - is that of English studies. 'English' was always an unstable compound, but for a time, it seemed to work well: especially in the 1950s, the 'age of affluence', when Bernard Bergonzi, as he relates in an engaging 'anecdotal introduction' to his latest book, became first a mature student of, then a lecturer in, English Literature. He recalls that, in this era, 'a unified existence centred on English Literature: writing it, writing about it, teaching it' seemed possible: an idea he now finds utopian. The strains in English studies started to show in the sixties, but they could be put down to revolting students. The revolting students were put down, but the intellectual and rhetorical assaults particularly from France - the post-1968 struggle shifting from the streets into the salons and seminar rooms - continued, and their abrasive encounters with British empiricism and insularity, and their uneasy alliances with British Marxism, led to what Bergonzi calls 'bitterness in the early eighties' - the MacCabe battle, the Re-Reading English controversy (in which, as Bergonzi notes, P·N·R played a small role). The result was the rout of the old regime, even if it held on to some institutional power.

Why did the old regime collapse? The reasons, as Bergonzi recognizes, are complex: it is not merely the advent of theory, which ...


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