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

The Apple of Theory Peter Barry

PNR's 'stocktaking' on the current state of literary criticism will usefully complement others we have had so far in the 1980s - such as the lengthy correspondence which followed Tom Paulin's review of Re-Reading English in the London Review of Books in June 1982, the TLS symposium 'Professing Literature' in December of the same year, and a similar item in the THES in February 1983, each with its train of combative correspondence. The anger and polarization evident in these symposia had come to a head in the MacCabe affair in 1981, but the acrimonious bitterness of the early 1980s seems to be fading now. Much of what follows is concerned with suggesting some reasons for this.

One reason for the apparent calm is a simple one. The publishing base of the new critical practices is now much stronger than it was in 1982 when the hostile response to Re-Reading English (a book I have no desire to defend) caused the New Accents series to falter: there was a lull in the spate of new titles, and if the series had come to an end, the dissemination of European critical thinking at student level in Britain would have ended too. Hence, a vigorous polemic in defence of theoretical ideas was then a necessity. But today the need is less urgent as New Accents has regained its momentum, and its success has stimulated new ventures of a similar kind, such as Blackwell's 'Re-Reading Literature' series (under the general editorship ...


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