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Missing Something: A Review Essay on Joseph North’s Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History

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This is a review essay of Joseph North’s Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History. I interrogate many of North’s claims, most notably his argument about the way a shift from literary criticism to literary scholarship has blunted the capacity of people working in literary studies to engage in a socially critical praxis. I use his book as an occasion to explore the relationship between literary studies (as ‘knowledge’) and the meaning-making that occurs within English classrooms when students engage with the texts chosen for study. I argue that North’s failure to make connections between English teaching and the literary critical projects of people like I.A. Richards, F.R. Leavis and Raymond Williams ultimately limits the reach of his book. For each of these critics, literary criticism was deeply embedded in an educational project that extended far beyond the confines of the academy, and their literary criticism might usefully be reread in these terms.
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Keywords: English teaching; Literary criticism; close reading; cultural politics; education; the aesthetic

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: July 2, 2020

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