Critical theorists in our time sought foundations of knowledge because they knew there were none to be found, and critical scepticism became a convenient way of burying evidence and saving face. By now, however, no-one is interested, the audience has gone home, and the case for studying literature needs to begin again. It cannot start too soon. In Take Back the Past, George Watson considers the reasons for the apparent failure of the previous centuryis critics to find the theoretical foundations of critical judgement. He asks why is it more fashionable to look knowing than to know, and cites political and historical reasons for this lapse in knowledge and critical thinking. In this new study, a worthy addition to his work on the subject, Watson contemplates the collapse of socialism in the late 20th Century and how it lead to the denial of knowledge and the general degeneration of literary thought. 'My object here' - he tells the reader - 'is to find a way back to a sense of a unity of knowledge and the objectivity of judgement: to recover a radical purpose of literature.'
George Watson is a Fellow in English at St. John's College, Cambridge. He is the author of The Literary Critics, to which Never Ones for Theory? is a sequel, and general editor of the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature.
1. The Death of Meaning: Introduction. Who's afraid of literature? The second surrender. The avant-garde. 2. The Retreat from Knowledge: Britain is an island. The ignorance of the doctors. How to be an angel. Socrates' mistake. Play it, Sam. Don't give us India. 3. Millennium End: The decay of idleness. The battle of the generations. In praise of elites. The silence of the servants. Where was the IRA? The tedium of Adolf Hitler. The cycle of terror. 4. Humanism at Bay: The triumph of T.S. Eliot. Is science different? What right to know? The bliss of solitude. 5. Demythologizing the Age: Take back the past