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This report is taken from PN Review 48, Volume 12 Number 4, March - April 1986.

Theory Michael Edwards

'Look, if you can't write why don't you
learn to write criticism?'
'Do you think I should?'
'It would be fine', I told him. 'Then
you can always write. You won't ever
have to worry about it not coming nor
being mute and silent. People will read it
and respect it.'
Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


The English have always been strong on literary theory. I begin with this truism, since to many it must seem, on the contrary, provocatively false. The French after all, and the Germans, are theoretical, whereas the English know the value of attending to the particular instance. And yet from Sidney, through Dryden, Johnson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Arnold, Eliot, English writers have asked basic questions about writing, and, often in asides or in a few charged paragraphs, have found answers that still have power to engage us. Sidney's Apologie, the first major treatise in English, attempts to understand poetry at the deepest level, as a triumphant, 'golden', response to a corrupt world, and a means to knowledge and to moral and political action, and in its relation to philosophy and history. We are right to want to see as far as possible into what we are doing or studying - I presume? - by sounding its nature, by placing it in the contexts that mean most to us. One notices about such writing that it does not necessarily offer itself as theory, that ...


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