Discipline or Perish: English at the Tipping Point and Styles of Thinking in the Twenty-first Century

  • Patricia Waugh


English has always been a Janus-faced discipline. The Roman God of transition, sudden or radical change and transformation, Janus is emblematised by thresholds, doorways, entrances and exits, travel and trade, hybridity and the transcultural. Likewise, as Ben Knights has recently argued, English is a ‘boundary practice’ (Knights, 2015, pp. 15–25). The habitus of English, as literary studies—the main but not exclusive focus of this essay—primarily straddles cognate fields such as philosophy and history; in creative writing it extends to the performing arts; in English language to cognitive linguistics, philosophy of language and language acquisition. English is at once gamekeeper and poacher, custodian and iconoclast of heritage, nation and language. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the history of English from its earliest years to its latest developments and extensions is one of constant internecine skirmish, hot and cold border wars, crisis and cargo cults. In the last third of the twentieth century, in particular, English literary studies underwent more ‘turns’ than the heroine of a sensation novel: formalist, historicist, New Historicist, deconstructive, linguistic, textualist, ethical, affective, material, phenomenological, cognitive, narratologi-cal, digital. But English as taught has always been and remains a loose and ever changing federation of semi-autonomous domains, each with its own methods, focus and content, sometimes achieving devolved status as new departments or centres for linguistics, cultural studies or creative writing.


Literary Study Confirmation Bias Creative Industry Literary Text Thinking Style 
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© Patricia Waugh 2016

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  • Patricia Waugh

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