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

Language and the New Orthodoxy J.F. Hendry

The general depersonalisation affecting society since the first Industrial Revolution and gathering pace in the second has had a devastating effect on the humanities, and not least on literature and literary criticism. There has been an aping of 'scientific' style, terminological borrowing and the creation of neologisms, together with an increasing stress on alleged rational and neutral approaches in the various disciplines; and yet a growing divergence of specialized language and terminologies. What is not measurable is of no interest, because it is of no immediate utility. God and the novel are both dead, and literature, also dying, is becoming 'anti-literature', as heroes have become anti-heroes.

If I may carry on further an old analogy, the baby has not only been thrown out with the bathwater, and that deliberately, but it is the bath that has been carefully preserved as an artefact, to be studied for its structure, relevance(!) and semiotic significance, if any, i.e. as a possible ritual object.

Language itself has been subjected to the same technological influences as literature. 'Technique' is the dominant concept throughout. We are, in fact, witnessing an invasion, on a massive scale, of technical or operational language. What we may term natural language, the heritage of several thousand years, is increasingly menaced, 'la langue' as well as 'la parole'. Add to this the belief that language constructs reality, and the impasse becomes evident.

Are either of these statements true however? Let us examine the first, that ...


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