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A Future for Criticism

ISBN: 978-1-4051-6956-1
160 pages
February 2011, Wiley-Blackwell
A Future for Criticism (1405169567) cover image


A Future for Criticism considers why fiction gives so much pleasure, and the neglect of this issue in contemporary criticism. 
  • Offers a brief, lively, and accessible account of a new direction for critical practice, from one of Britain's most prominent literary theorists and critics
  • Proposes a new path for future criticism, more open to reflecting on the pleasures of fiction
  • Written in a clear, jargon-free style, and illustrated throughout with numerous examples
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Table of Contents

Preface xi

1 Pleasure: Have we neglected it? 1

Fiction for pleasure 1

The case of tragedy 3

The English curriculum 6

Cries of joy 7

‘Aesthetic’ pleasure 9

The Pleasure of the Text 12

Modernist unpleasure 14

Gaiety 15

2 Piety: Haven’t we overdone it? 18

Criticism on the defensive 18

Classic defences 22

The advent of theory 24

Law 28

The superego 29

Neurosis 30

Complacency 31

Culture and Anarchy 32

Artefacts and pleasure 33

Critical writing 34

3 Biography: Friend or foe? 37

Life and art 37

Biography in theory 39

What the authors say 42

New Historicism 43

Shakespeare’s life 44

Fact or fiction? 46

Shakespeare’s memory 47

Romance 51

The death of the reader 52

4 Realism: Do we overrate it? 54

A disputed value 54

The default genre 55

Imitation 57

Insight 60

Totalization 62

Suspicion 63

Objections 64

The radical view 66

Recuperation 68

A counter-example 70

5 Culture: What do we mean by it? 72

Cultural criticism 72

Twin perils 75

Culture as meanings 76

Meanwhile, in Paris … 80

Anthropology 80

Another culture 83

Perils circumvented 85

Work to do 88

6 History: Do we do it justice? 90

Official usage 90

Cultural difference 91

History and criticism 93

Customary knowledge 94

Dissonance 97

An example 99

The old historicism 101

Criticism as cultural history 103

The uses of criticism 103

Critical skills 105

7 Desire: A force to reckon with 107

Pleasure revisited 107

Orpheus 108

Loss 109

The desire of the protagonist 111

Stand-ins 113

The desire of the reader 114

The desire of the text 116

Substitution 118

Pacification 119

Defiance 120

Breaking the rules 123

And so … 126

Criticism 126

Notes 128

Index 140

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Author Information

Catherine Belsey is a research professor in English at Swansea University, UK. Her principal publications include Shakespeare in Theory and Practice (2008), Why Shakespeare? (2007), Critical Practice (1980, 2002), Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction (2002) and Desire: Love Stories in Western Culture (1994).

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"The unbuttoned directness of this little book is invigorating." - Jean E. Howard (Shakespeare Studies, 2013)

"A Future for Criticism issues a challenge to critics that really amounts to having the courage of our convictions and sticking to what we're good at, resisting the encroachments of history and psychology, and having 'confidence in the independent capabilities of criticism' (76) ... Belsey's book is a positive pleasure to read." (Transnational Literature, November 2011)

"Laudably eschewing jargon, she draws up a very readable manifesto for change in critical practice which would require critics to be more reflective about the pleasure of reading fiction and attending plays . . . nevertheless, the front she has chosen on which to examine a new direction for literary and/or cultural criticism is timely and compelling, and her argument made with verve and originality." (Suite101.com, 4 April 2011)

"A pleasure to read from start to finish. This book will touch even sedated nerves, and bring energy and cheer to anyone who cares about reading, and about thinking about reading or anything else."
Michael Wood, Princeton University

"This is a hugely appealing book. It is at once glitteringly clear and intellectually adventurous, and the whole thing hums with a sociable impulse of delight."
Steven Connor, Birkbeck College, London

"A terrific book–incisive and challenging, accessible and lucid. It should make a stir."
Coppélia Kahn, Brown University

"Belsey is uniquely qualified both to reexamine the problems confronting a post-humanist cultural criticism and to reformulate the intellectual and political responsibilities they entail. This book does not disappoint expectations. It is a highly readable, utterly compelling polemic, and I cannot recommend it enough."
Matthew Beaumont, University College, London

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