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This article is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

The Politicization of English Nicolas Tredell

Ignore them and they'll go away: this was the initial response to proposals for radical change in English studies in higher education. But they didn't go away, and other tactics were hastily adopted: blundering attacks, which proved counter-productive. Now we have reached a third stage: 'repressive tolerance' bordering on complacency. Professor John Bayley, for example, assures us that there is nothing really wrong in the state of English, and invokes - with a rather unhappy echo of a former President of the United States - the 'silent majority of students' (should English students be silent?) who remain unaffected by the agitations of a 'minority of activists' (TLS, 10 June 1983, p. 587). Bayley is right, of course, to say that talk of a 'crisis' in English studies is journalistic cliché, but his promise of peace in our time rings false, and that 'minority of activists' itself smacks of journalistic cliché. There are, of course, some History Men - and Women - now active in English; but we are dealing with not a conspiracy, but a complex movement of individuals, activities, and ideas, represented by some, at least, of the books of the 'New Accents' series, and, most recently, by Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory; by magazines such as Red Letters and Literature and History; and by the pressure group 'Literature Teaching Politics'. Complex though this movement is, however, one main aim can, and must, be identified and challenged: the politicization of English. The intention is to appropriate the field of ...


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