Revising English: Theory and Practice

  • Carol Atherton


The difficulty of resolving the ‘Arnoldian paradox’ — of closing the gap between culture and society so that the former could be brought to bear on the problems of the latter — remained an important theme in the literary criticism of the 1960s and 1970s. During these decades, the need for a stable, humane culture was given a new sense of urgency. For some, this stemmed from the threat of the Cold War: the critic C. L. Mowat claimed that a renewed sense of a common culture was potentially ‘our last, best hope on earth’.1 For others, this urgency was prompted by the debasing of popular culture, and the consequent need for critics who could keep alive what Lionel Trilling referred to as ‘the cultural mode of thought’.2 The critic, charged with the task of interrogating modern culture and finding ways in which literature could continue to be made meaningful, was invested with a level of responsibility that far exceeded that of the scholar. And while the critic may indeed be an academic specialist, the task he or she faced was of a scale that rendered questions of disciplinarity irrelevant: ‘We are all specialists now: and what we need is to rediscover what is common between us.’3


English Literature Personal Growth Current Debate National Curriculum Literary Criticism 
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© Carol Atherton 2005

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  • Carol Atherton

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