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

Genesis of the Subject Stephen Bann

The 'return to order' is a familiar figure of modernist discourse. A few decades after Manet and the Impressionists had unsettled the conventions of academic painting, Maurice Denis was acclaiming the achievement of Cézanne in reversing the modernist tendency and 'saving the orthodoxy'. Around 1910, avant-garde groups in Western and Eastern Europe were throwing off the historical burden of what the Futurists called 'passéisme'. But by 1922 El Lissitsky recalled Mayakovsky's well-known iconoclastic slogan when he proclaimed: 'It is laughable as it is naive to talk nowadays about "wanting to throw Pushkin overboard".'

Yet the Editors of PN Review have given a new twist to the screw in their statement of 'A New Orthodoxy'. For them it is the orthodoxy which must be attacked, and not reasserted. But it is an orthodoxy which has turned away from the work of contemporary poets, novelists and writers, taking refuge in 'unjustified' theories of language which militate against recognition of the individual subject. Against this orthodoxy, which they regard presumably as a kind of new academy, they advocate a judicious blend of the contemporary and the traditional - contemporary writers, certainly, are to be given their fair share of attention, but 'traditional literary approaches' must remain available for assessing and evaluating their texts.

Writing as I do from the viewpoint of an art critic and cultural critic, more so than as a literary critic, I find this scenario rather irrelevant. All of us have our private demonologies, and ...


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