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

Right Thinking Critics Terry Eagleton

The editorial statement to which contributors to this special issue of PN Review were invited to respond identifies a 'new orthodoxy' in literary criticism, which

1) forbids discrimination among literary texts.

This is a common illusion of right-wing critics. In fact, apart from a relatively brief period of 'high' or classical structuralism in the 1960s, in which the question of aesthetic value was 'placed in brackets' for particular analytical purposes, radical criticism has not taken up such an attitude. It exists as a fantasy in reactionary minds, not as a reality in radical ones. A moment's thought is enough to demonstrate its implausibility. Does the left commonly consider the study of Beddoes to be as important as the study of Brecht? Does PN Review believe, hand on heart, that the left customarily estimates Shenstone as highly as Blake? The claim advanced in this first proposition is a straw target. Indeed in a familiar pincer movement radical criticism is sometimes denounced for its indifferentism, and sometimes for liking the wrong things. (There is, naturally, a secret unity to these contradictory complaints: if you do not like what we like then you clearly have no sense of value at all).

The characteristic case advanced by the left on the question of value has not been the absurdity that any literary text is as valuable as any other - a paranoid right-wing projection if ever there was one - but that the grounds of evaluation are ...


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