Eagleton: “The Rise of English”

Eagleton: “The Rise of English”
Literary Studies before “Theory”
I. Pre-modern: ‘Literature’ the valued writings of society—‘imaginative’ or
otherwise; embodies and disseminates values of a particular (privileged)
class; purposes frankly ideological.
II. Romantics (1798 – early 19th century): Reaction to social/technological
upheavals of second-half of 18th century: rise of liberal economy,
industrialization, breakdown of ‘traditional’ social relations and ‘organic’
society; ‘Literature’ becomes oppositional to dominant ideology.
NB: but also detaches itself from social purpose, to retreat from
engagement with the world to preserve the “essential” human qualities
against dehumanizing forces taking over; “art” becomes the repository of
“timeless” values and truths superior to those of any particular historical
moment [quasi-religious overtones already apparent].
III. Victorians (mid 19th – early 20th centuries): ‘timeless’ values and truths
embodied in Literature become substitute for religion in indoctrinating
middle and laboring classes; ‘universal’ values encourage solidarity across
classes and shared identification in national body (useful for indoctrination
into imperialist ideology); discourage class consciousness or a focus on
inequitable material conditions and their sources in various social
injustices. ‘English’ offered as suitable for academic study by laborers and
IV. Leavis and Scrutineers (early - mid 20th century): replace aristocratic
cocktail-party chatter about ‘Literature’; instead position study of
‘Literature’ in opposition to ‘dehumanizing’ effects of modern mass culture;
study of English a moral crusade—a struggle for people’s souls [cf.
Romantics]. Deeply nostalgic and suspicious of, even hostile towards,
popular culture (radio, film, jazz, advertising). [cf. Romantics]
Practical and New Criticism: attempt to inject rigor into study of
‘Literature’ (poetry in particular); focus on ‘the text itself’ divorced
from larger contexts (historical, social, cultural, personal) to find
‘timeless’ truths revealed by ‘Literature.’ Motivated in part by science
envy and need to ‘prove’ intellectual seriousness of literary studies;
encouraged by infusion of new students into universities who lacked
preparation of previous social classes who made up bulk of
university students; focus on resolvable paradoxes and ‘harmony’
and ‘balance’ of texts worked well with consensus ideologies of