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

An Insecure Orthodoxy Bernard Bergonzi

I agree with the general implications of 'A New Orthodoxy', but I am uneasy about its tone and a certain looseness of language. The first sentence says that 'the alternative approaches to literature that have emerged in recent years have now hardened into a new orthodoxy'. What are these alternative approaches? First, presumably, there was classical structuralism, whose belated British début was marked by the publication ten years ago of Jonathan Culler's Structuralist Poetics. Then followed the post-structuralist playfulness of Roland Barthes' later books, and the intellectual nihilism of deconstruction, as urbanely mediated by Christopher Norris. And, more diffusely, psychoanalysis and feminism. I think it safe to say that the majority of teachers of English Literature, whether in sixth forms or universities, have taken very little notice of these innovations, such is the resistance to theory and speculation in our literary culture, reinforced by the pressures of day-to-day pedagogy. Those who have taken notice have veered between mildly alarmed and mildly sympathetic interest. Established academics have shown that they knew a thing or two about what was going on by making passing reference to Barthes or Derrida, not always very accurately. The comforting but superficial reflection has been thrown out that what these new French movements were doing was not all that different from what Anglo-American criticism had been doing for many years, which shows ignorance of the very different intellectual contexts and traditions involved. Other academics, usually younger ones, have become keen adherents and disciples of one or ...


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