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


Is there a 'new orthodoxy' in literary criticism? There are, of course, tendencies of the kind that PN Review's manifesto suggests, but a set of tendencies does not add up to an orthodoxy, and especially not when one tendency, toward the sceptical idealism of deconstruction which is hit off in the fourth proposition, is in conflict with another, toward politics, the outward sign of the 'revolutionary desires' which are the concern of the sixth proposition. Attempts have been made to link deconstruction with radical politics, but it would be hard to find a single view of that relationship that could fairly be called orthodox.

Like most manifestos, this one trivializes intellectual debate by souping it up into drama. Journalistically, a single repugnant orthodoxy which inspires common resistance is more appealing than the congeries of divergent ideas making for confusion and disorientation in literary studies at present. Words like unthinking, contemptuous, self-righteous and absurdity are part of a knockabout ritual which has little to do with criticism. This manifesto makes a plea for discrimination among literary texts, but it is undiscriminating in its abuse. Indeed, since there is no attempt to identify what authors, what books, are under attack, the whole enterprise takes on an air of redundancy, for it is self-evident that no one would wish to be associated with unthinking rejection of traditional critical approaches, no one would want to foster a self-righteous sectarianism, and so on. The lack of specificity in these formulations is regrettable. ...

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