Spring 2015: During Abstract

The Critic as Antihumanist Humanist
Simon During
Professor at the Center for the History of European Discourses

University of Queensland

This paper thinks about the birth of modern literary criticism in relation to late nineteenth-century antihumanism. It argues that criticism in its modern sense appeared when critics such as T. S. Eliot, I. A. Richards, William Empson and F. R. Leavis took language (rather than, for instance, God or “man”) as a primary ground of value and meaning. They did so in the context of a broad assault on humanism which then took various forms, and which can be thought of not so much as a new phase in, but as a radical break in, the long history of secularization itself. The paper further argues that criticism in this form turned out to have a surprisingly short life in part because its appeal to language as culture’s ground and vehicle could not, in the end, move beyond the humanist problematic.

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