Crisis of literature 1790s by Paul Keen

By Paul Keen

This e-book bargains an unique examine of debates that arose within the 1790s in regards to the nature and social position of literature and the recent category of readers produced by way of the revolution in details and literacy in eighteenth-century England. the 1st half concentrates at the dominant arguments in regards to the position of literature and the prestige of the writer; the second one shifts its concentration to the debates approximately working-class activists and radical girls authors, and examines the expansion of a Romantic ideology inside of this context of political and cultural turmoil.

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But Godwin insisted that unchecked debate ultimately led to social cohesion rather than dissension by developing widely shared standards of opinion amongst the reading public: 30 Enlightenment Literature has reconciled the whole thinking world respecting the great principles of the system of the universe, and extirpated upon this subject the dreams of romance and the dogmas of superstition. Literature has unfolded the nature of the human mind, and Locke and others have established certain maxims respecting man, as Newton has done respecting matter, that are generally admitted for unquestionable.

III, 15) Behind the anarchic spectre of apparently random intellectual collisions lay the reassuring teleology of the gradual progress of truth – a force which, because it was both unifying and liberating, was ultimately the strongest ally of sound government. Godwin’s ideas about literature as an overtly political communicative domain represented an extreme version of a set of beliefs that had been evolving over the previous centuries. 10 Lacking any official regulations or geographic territory, the identity of this community was consolidated by those modes of affiliation – exchanges of books, visits, and letters of introduction – which evoked an ethos of cooperation between its members.

This book, like Siskin’s The Work of Writing, registers the productive potential inherent in our own institutional crisis – the fact that our ways of knowing (disciplinarity) and working (professionalism) as members of English departments have become ‘disturbed and disturbing’ (8) – by seeking to reverse ‘the standard displacement of writing by Literature – opening both, perhaps to new ways of knowing’ (227). By recognizing more clearly the nature of the influence which past events continue to exert, we can better understand the cultural predicament of our own age, in which attempts to foreground questions about the range of questions that we as ‘literary critics’ feel licensed to ask, are still frequently rejected as a political intrusion into a territory that ought to transcend the narrowness of what are denounced as mandate-driven approaches.

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