New literary movements and critical thoughts of the world have struck root amidst
protests and resistance. At the turn of the twentieth century, for example, the
rise of the Modernist movement in the West invited the stiff opposition of the literary figures and some of the journalist-critics of England and America who had grown up in the genteel tradition of the Victorian era. Similarly, when the New Critics attempted to analyze Modernist works textually and technically, they had to confront the collective attack of the historical and philological critics. And after the fifties, when a set of scholars made efforts to enunciate certain structuralist, text/reader-based theories, they were accused of dislocating criticism from its well-established domains and taking it to the spheres of philosophy, sociology and linguistics. Critical theories met with such opposition in Indian academy, too. The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature of this resistance, particularly in our centers of higher education, and its impact on English studies in our country.
Many scholars in Western academies have proudly pointed out the achievements of contemporary criticism. But, many others do not wholeheartedly share their colleagues’ enthusiasm for it. While not ignoring the positive elements in contemporary theory, they have expressed their reservations about it. For example, in the Preface to their book Criticism in the University, Graff and Gibbons (1985, pp. 8-11) speak against the academic institutionalization of criticism which, according to them, has affected the importance of the journalist critics and scholars who have produced first rate criticism. Being outside the university, the Preface states, they have aimed their writing at the general reader and have communicated critical ideas, unlike the theorists, in an accessible, jargon-free style:
The narrowing of ‘criticism’ to ‘academic criticism’ assumes that only the criticism written by academics within the prevailing academic methodologies and within academic intellectual society is worth talking about:
“An important point discussed in the book is whether theory should be totally abandoned from the university syllabus or a more accommodative syllabus (which includes
F R Leavis, Lionell Trilling, Irving Howe along with Derrida, Lacan, etc.) has to be formulated. The editors believe that “a fusing of cultural inquiry and the most scrupulous textual attention would begin to restore to criticism a constructive role in the literary culture.”
Similarly, in his essay “The Deconstructive Angel”, countering certain notions of
J Hillis Miller, Abrams (1988, p. 266) has summarized three of his major critical assumptions which he believes relate him to the traditional historians of Western culture. First, written texts are the basic materials of history. Authors of texts use language in some of its potentialities to say something determinate. The competent reader who shares the authors’ language will understand what they say. Second, the interpretation of the critic is partly his own and partly the author’s. If the interpretation is sensible then it “approximates, closely enough for the purpose at hand, what the author meant.” Third, the historian presents his interpretation to the reader in the hope that it will approximately match with the reader’s interpretation and thus maintain objectivity.