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This article is taken from PN Review 33, Volume 10 Number 1, September - October 1983.

Anti-Philosophers Nicolas Tredell

'GIVE up literary criticism!' This was the 'stern admonition' that Wittgenstein once delivered to F. R. Leavis. Leavis, of course, had no intention of giving up an activity that he saw as central to life, but in later years, while continuing to denounce theoretical argument, he grew increasingly concerned to justify his claims for literature's centrality. This led to his paradoxical stance as an 'anti-philosopher' - and indeed as an anti-sociologist, anti-psychologist and anti-historian - who vigorously engaged with philosophical, sociological, psychological and historical issues, while rejecting the usual terms of debate for those issues.

The Critic as Anti-Philosopher is not, it must be said, the book Leavis would have produced had he lived. The intention was to follow The Living Principle (1975), focused on Eliot, and Thought, Words and Creativity (1976), focused on Lawrence, with a third volume focused on Wordsworth. What we now have consists, apart from an essay on Daniel Deronda, of previously published pieces, but these are widely scattered, and it is good to have them brought together. The earliest piece, from 1933, states the classic case against Work in Progress - later to become Finnegans Wake, and a key text for post-structuralist criticism - as having an organization that is 'external and mechanical', rather than informed by a vital principle. An essay of 1953 wittily dissects the American 'Great Books' programme, pointing out that, despite its democratic pretensions, very few could cope with its immense reading list, which in any case largely ...


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