Literature and Society: The Problem of Method

  • Andrew Milner


When Lucien Goldmann began his first major work, the early study of the tragic philosophy of Immanuel Kant, he found it necessary to apologise to his readers for the apparent ‘rashness’ of his initial decision to commence the analysis with an account of a set of problems which were empirical and sociological, rather than, in the conventional sense of the term, philosophical.1 In France itself, Goldmann’s own later study of Jansenism, The Hidden God, 2 established, almost single-handedly, the right to exist of a sociology of literature and of philosophy. But in England events have proceeded rather less rapidly. The predominant empiricism of English literary-critical ideology has proved stubbornly and tenaciously resistant to all attempts at theorisation. Leavis’s refusal as a matter of principle to indulge in generalisation, a refusal made explicit in his famous reply to Rene Wellek,3 is thus indicative of a wider, more general, and specifically English disdain for theoretical analysis. Against the background of such an intellectual climate, it appears necessary to attempt a briefjustification, at least, for beginning a study of the prose and poetical works of John Milton with a ‘theoretical’ chapter which takes as its prime focus the general problem of the relationship between ‘literature’ and ‘society’.


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© Andrew Milner 1981

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  • Andrew Milner

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