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

Fighting Windmills Christine Brooke-Rose

The level of this dispute is distressingly low and it is difficult to join in without more specification. Question: what does 'it' refer to? Answer: 'the new orthodoxy'. But this is presupposed as belonging to 'the alternative approaches to literature', unnamed. Des noms! Des noms! Des noms! as the French say when veiled accusations are made.

There are innumerable 'alternative approaches', and not a single one of your accusations is true of any of them, except for your Point 4 which, however, as accusation and so formulated, is philosophically naive. And also, to be pedantic, 5 and 6 were partly true of one or two particular representatives of early French Structuralism of the 1950s and 1960s. As for 1 and 2, they are based on a misunderstanding: if semiotics (to name one vast complex of different 'approaches') did, following on Propp (1929), turn its attention to popular or other than literary modes of signifying, that is its job as its name implies, and it had the great merit of attracting our attention to this 'secular scripture', as Frye calls it (1975), which élitist critics had long despised (except in medieval or other older periods, i.e. ennobled by time). Moreover, naïve texts reveal the elementary structures very clearly, from which 'literary' texts are not magically exempt, so that this type of analysis helped us to understand certain aspects of all literature.

Since none of the accusations is true (I pass over the others), the counter-platform is ...


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