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

The Real Agenda Hilton Kramer

Of the many things to be said about the 'New Orthodoxy', which has lately acquired such immense influence in criticism and academic study, the most important, it seems to me, is for us to speak plainly and openly about its real agenda, which is political. About the nature of this political agenda, moreover, there can now be no doubt. Foremost among its many imperative interests is the project to 'deconstruct' - which is to say, dismantle and effectively destroy - cultural life as it has existed for some two hundred years in the democratic societies of the Western world. It is the ultimate dream of this critical movement to effect a cultural revolution on a sweeping scale, and, by means of that cultural revolution, to change - and change radically - the very nature of society and its institutions. To avert our attention from this political agenda and attempt to enter into debate about one or another of the movement's arcane 'methodologies' strikes me as utterly futile. For that is to mistake the shadow for the substance of the 'New Orthodoxy'. When, in his conclusion to The Function of Criticism (1984), Terry Eagleton urges us to define that function as 'a struggle against the bourgeois state', it behoves us to take the man seriously, especially considering the position he occupies in the movement itself.

If the 'New Orthodoxy' is still very far from achieving its revolutionary goals, it has none the less made a dismayingly successful start ...


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