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The New Belletrism.

"Publicize Your Privates"

This past fall, alongside their stolid fleet of anthologies, Norton released a postcard-sized, surprisingly whimsical book called Life's Little Deconstruction Book: Self-Help for the Post-Hip (Boyd). Playing off the 1991 bestseller, Life's Little Instruction Book, it gathers nearly four hundred epigrams that parody the sensibility if not tenets of contemporary literary theory (a bubble on the front reads "Po-mo to Go!"), containing lines recognizable to those who might have sat through college courses through the 1990s, especially in the humanities, such as "Perform Your Gender" (presumably referring to the polemic of Judith Butler's Gender Trouble) or "Voice Subjugated Discourses" (harkening to the general thrust of postcolonialism). One of the featured epigrams (one of the few that takes up a whole page), #13, is "Publicize Your Privates," referring, one surmises, to the recent turn toward autobiography in literary criticism and the proclivity to mention things like peeing and penises. [1]

I start with this because I think it emblematizes a commonplace view-- commonplace enough to be the object of popular parody--that academic literary criticism in the 1990s has been overtaken by what has variously been called "personal criticism," "autobiographical literary criticism," "confessional criticism," "the new confessionalism," or permutations thereof. [2] That is, the dominant and established mode of literary criticism has moved from the High Theory of the 1970s and 80s, epitomized, say, by Paul de Man or Fredric Jameson, and from its difficult, more densely philosophical or social-scientific, impersonal tenor, language, and style, to the more experiential, subjective, literary tenor and language of autobiography, among other things? Drawing on linguistics, continental philosophy, structural anthropology, and sociology, Theory purported a conceptual depth and precision (the attribution of "rigor" was the highest compliment one could pay to a critical work, "unrigorous" a blunt dismissal), supplanti ng the more appreciative, literary basis of the previously dominant practice of close reading. (Though the New Criticism mandated attention to the formal structures of poetry, it was an avowedly literary form that it sought to identify, and the impetus for that pursuit derived from the tacit appreciation of poetry.) One might recall that, in the early days of the Theory Years, critics sought to encompass literary studies under the banner of the new "human sciences" and saw literary criticism as a central component of the "science of signs." To amend Fredric Jameson's famous motto, the desideratum for that earlier moment might well be summarized as "Always theorize!," whereas now the motto seems to have shifted to "Always personalize!"

This shift is usually regarded as having been inaugurated by Jane Tompkins's 1987 essay, "Me and My Shadow," which renounces the "straitjacket" of the philosophical "apparatus" of the theory-driven criticism that she herself practiced [4] and, in a more informal, suggestive essayistic style, calls for criticism that "would always take off from personal experience" and feeling (Kauffman 126). By the early 1990s, this shift was decisively stamped as "personal criticism" by Nancy Miller in Getting Personal (1991), and concretized in several collections, notably The Intimate Critique: Autobiographical Literary Criticism (Freedman et al.; 1993) and Wild Orchids and Trotsky (Edmundson; 1993), which includes essays by established critics such as William Kerrigan, Frank Lentricchia, Edward Said, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and the title piece by Richard Rorty. By the later 90s, personal or confessional criticism appeared to have attained full institutional status as a critical movement, one marked by the publication of t he Routledge anthology Confessions of the Critics (1996), edited by H. Aram Veeser, who is best known for his standard collection, The New Historicism (1989), establishing that movement nearly a decade earlier.

Alongside these institutional markers, the personal turn has been most conspicuous in the spate of academic autobiographies published through the 1990s, such as James Phelan's Beyond the Tenure Track (1991), Alice Kaplan's French Lessons (1993), Cathy Davidson's 36 Views of Mount Fuji (1993), Lentricchia's The Edge of Night (1994), Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Colored People (1994), Marianna Torgovnick's Crossing Ocean Parkway (1994), William Pritchard's English Papers (1995), Michael B[acute{e}]ru[acute{e}]'s Life as We Know It (1996), Miller's Bequest and Betrayal (1996), bell hooks's Born Black: Memories of Girlhood (1996) and Wounds of Passion: A Writing Life (1997), Tompkins's A Life in School (1997), Tobin Siebers' s Among Men (1998), and Sedgwick's A Dialogue on Love (l999). [5] What seems especially remarkable about these is that they were written for the most part by people who had significant academic reputations as theorists. For instance, Lentricchia was the author of a seminal document establishing T heory, After the New Criticism (1980), Tompkins a central figure in establishing reader-response theory in her collection Reader-Response Criticism (1980), Gates perhaps the prime figure in establishing African-American literary theory in his collection Black Literature and Literary Theory (1984) and his deconstructively inflected The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African American Literary Criticism (1988), Miller a prominent representative of second-wave feminism in The Heroine's Text (1980) and Subject to Change (1988), and Sedgwick the formative figure in establishing queer theory, in some sense inaugurated with the publication of her book Between Men (l985). [6] It is also notable that many of these reformed theorists were from that haven of High Theory, Duke University thus seeming synecdochally to represent the institutional turn from Theory to personal writing. [7]

This turn has incited a good bit of controversy. On its behalf, it has been celebrated as freeing criticism from its normative bounds and as an antidote to the aridity and affective repression represented by High Theory (Tompkins's "straitjacket"). Just as Theory was at one time announced in liberatory rhetoric as transgressing the limits of normative practice, personal criticism claims to liberate critics and transgress the limitations of Theory. In her recent MLA Presidential address, Elaine Showalter remarks on the excesses of theory and their correction in personal writing, seeing it as a part of the "regeneration" of the profession:

In the 1970s and 1980s, personal voices in academia were often muted in the interests of theoretical analyses. In the 1990s, with the massive return of the emotional repressed in the form of novels, memoirs, and personal essays, writers are discussing much more honestly and wrenchingly the spiritual malaise within even successful university careers. (321)

Not everyone is so convinced. Some suggest the personal turn derives from the self-indulgent expression of those in the midst of midlife crises. [8] More dramatically, Daphne Patai denounces it in a Chronicle of Higher Education column as a "Nouveau Solipsism" and as self-obsessed whining. Part of the negative response castigates its sensationalism in mentioning things like peeing, and dismisses it as exhibitionism. More diplomatically, Peter Brooks calls it "regrettable" and roots it in the "cult of personality," thus participating in the specious economy of present-day celebrity (520). On rationalist grounds, David Gorman finds that it fails to contribute to literary knowledge and thus is not legitimate literary criticism, although he allows that it might be something else, such as memoir or travelogue. Tellingly, what is at issue in both its advocacy and its denunciations is not simply the use of personal voice and detail in critical writing, for personal voice and narrative have long functioned as famili ar rhetorical devices in criticism. [9] Rather, what is at issue is the focus on emotion, affect, and feeling, and their expression in critical writing. That is, the debate pivots on expressivism: the personal turn recasts the aim of criticism as the emotive expression of the critic rather than as a dispassionate, quasi-social scientific investigation, and those opposing it deny the legitimacy of expression.

Rather than adjudicating the merits and flaws of personal criticism, however, my intention here is to examine what this turn says about the overall state of criticism circa 1999, for I find it not an aberration ("midlife crisis") nor simply a re-embrace of expression but a register of a larger change, encompassing related modes of critical writing such as "experimental criticism," "crossover criticism," and "public criticism," as well as personal criticism. Together, these new forms of critical writing reconstitute the aim of criticism as what I'll call a "new belletrism," [10] reconfiguring the topics, manner, and style of criticism in more recognizably literary ways than Theory, resembling those of belles lettres rather than social science or philosophy, or traditional literary scholarship. Significantly, beyond their formal properties, they also reimagine the public for criticism, as a "general" audience that wishes to read "letters" rather than a specialist audience immersed in hardcore academic debates over theory. In this reconfiguration of audience and audience expectations, these modes project a revised public rationale for the profession of literature that justifies itself by conspicuously re-embracing familiar, more popular literary modes such as the personal essay or literary journalism. They reconfirm our disciplinary object as literature, and our professional creed as the appreciation of literature and culture and traditional literary values such as the expression of emotion and the human spirit.

Beyond surveying what has happened, the more pressing question is why this shift has occurred now and why it has been taken up so widely. The prevalent explanation of the turn to personal criticism, as I've mentioned, is that it responds to the excesses of theory and, as Showalter puts it, "its emotional repression." This view of critical history, however, relies upon a simple reactive model, that historical change operates in a cycle of establishment and rejection, old theory ceding to a new one eventually to be rejected in turn. Theory reacted to close reading, supplanted it, and now is supplanted by personal criticism. This is a profoundly limited if not ahistorical view; it sees criticism as an autonomous chain of events occurring within the history of criticism, and seems to suggest that changes are generated by intellectual boredom or exhaustion (the "dead end of theory"), or a natural growth and decline. [11] Other than hinting at professional disaffection, this version of history does not account for any larger professional, institutional, or social factors, for the position of criticism within the university or its negotiation with a real or imagined public. (Even those who oppose personal criticism argue against it for the most part in terms of its own self-definition, as an urge toward expression in criticism and among critics.) Further, it does not account for why one mode becomes institutionally dominant among competing modes; while there are always competing modes of criticism available--and autobiography and belles lettres have never entirely faded [12]--certain modes of criticism are adopted as representative and legitimate ways of speaking for the profession and the institutional study of literature. Why a new belletrism over other forms of criticism (for instance, literary history, which embraces the values of literature, serves as its "handmaid," and projects a verifiable literary knowledge)? What institutional conditions have fostered its present rise and what institutional needs does it fulf ill?

The short answer is that the new belletrism responds to the present material and ideological situation of the university, particularly to the shift from public to private funding, the ensuing calls for accountability, and the public debate over the role of the humanities. It reconfirms the purpose of literature departments, makes them accountable to their traditional, tried-and-true object of study, and in part answers the fallout from the Culture Wars that questioned the public value of decidedly professionalist pursuits such as theory. Theory propagated a code internal to the profession and answered a different institutional need, provided a research rationale for the humanities in contest with the social sciences during a time of greater and more autonomous university funding from the late 1960s up to the 1980s. The new belletrism responds to an imagined public expectation of literature departments, that we propagate our cultural heritage and "spiritual" or humanistic values. In the long view, Theory rath er than personal or other kinds of belletristic criticism might in fact represent an aberration; historically, theory was a marginal component of the humanities, not even listed in the MLA Bibliography until the 1970s, [13] whereas belletristic forms have far more often carried the day and been a far more familiar justification of literary study.

"Profession, Revise Thyself"

Though personal criticism has received far more attention as a kind of paradigm shift in criticism--possibly due to its perceived sensationalism, as well as its seeming rejection of theory and embrace of literary topoi--the 1990s have witnessed several other revisionary strands of critical writing. To take three representative examples from the theorists turned confessionalists noted above, in the 1990s Jane Tompkins also published West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns (1992), Marianna Torgovnick published Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy (1997), and Henry Louis Gates Jr. published Loose Canons. Notes on the Culture Wars (1992). On the one hand, all of these invoke distinctively personal voices in place of detached, impersonal ones, and take a more informal, essayistic personal tone, but, on the other hand, they indicate that literary critics have not entirely retreated to autobiographical ruminations, but remain anchored in the domain of literary and cultural criticism, exa mining recognizably literary and cultural phenomena.

In West of Everything, Tompkins employs a personal voice--she begins, "I make no secret of the fact: I love Westerns," and freely invokes an "I" rather than a comprehensive "we" or a disembodied passive construction without a pronoun--but she engages in an essentially literary analysis of the popular cultural artifacts of Western movies (such as Stagecoach, High Noon, and Shane) and the novels of Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour. The theoretical impetus for West of Everything is the study of gender construction, particularly the construction of masculinity, arguing that Westerns present a model for male behavior--to be silent, work hard, conquer foes, etc.--that enables men "to make a killing in the stock market" (128) at the expense of their emotional lives. Methodologically, in other words, West of Everything covers familiar theory territory (examining gender roles, informed by feminism), in a recognizable critical manner adducing evidence (through the analysis of literary and cultural texts), though it does so in a more informal style, adopting the rhetoric of personal commentary.

To take a step back, even Tompkins's "Me and My Shadow" is not quite as personally revealing and uncritical as might seem. Perhaps the most famous moment in "Me and My Shadow"--and one that has come to represent the personal turn--is when Tompkins remarks that she is "thinking about going to the bathroom. But not going yet" (126). On a quick read, Tompkins's essay seems to fall into Brooks's view of personal criticism as participating in the cult of personality, issuing intimate celebrity details for the common professional horde to consume, since she is a prominent critic and married to Stanley Fish. In fact, Fish makes a coy cameo appearance in her essay, when Tompkins says, "What I am breaking away from is[ldots]my intellectual dependence on my husband" (130). This seems to give a teasing glimpse into the lives of the academic rich and famous, but Tompkins makes the point, in the ellipsis (which I've elided because the detail that most people seem to remember is only this tidbit of revelation about Fish a nd her), that she is breaking away from "my conformity to the conventions of a male professional practice," one exemplified by her domestic scene. Her point is thus a feminist one, rhetorically vivid but more theoretically predictable than shocking, that she is governed by patriarchal practice, which is institutionalized in this profession and which she experiences personally (the personal is the political, as that saying goes, or more accurately for Tompkins, the personal is the professional). Her point is also to argue for the validity of those characteristics that are typically consigned to irrationality and the feminine: feeling, subjectivity, and narrative rather than competitive argument. In this light, instead of seeing Tompkins's later work as a decisive break, in many ways it is consistent with her earlier, more recognizably theoretical considerations of reader response, particularly of subjectivity, and of the canon, which she has argued has been governed by male biases against sentiment.

In this rhetorical context, Tompkins's presumed confessions about peeing or about her husband function not as an intimate revelation, but as what Roland Barthes calls the "reality effect," her gaining credibility, rhetorically, through intensively literary means. For Tompkins makes an argument about theory, but circumvents the usual point-by-point rhetoric of logical question and answer, proof and disproof. Working in the form of an incidental narrative tour of her bookshelves, Tompkins conducts a subtle survey of poststructural theory, citing Guattari, Bloom, Foucault, and others, but implicitly discredits them by showing their detachment from her lived experience (she puts down each of their books in turn). Her dismissal of these theorists--as well as Ellen Messer-Davidow's "The Philosophical Bases of Feminist Literary Criticisms," to which her essay was originally a response--is literally inarguable, or in the language of the philosophy of science, unfalsifiable (and hence Gorman's objection), since it is qualified as her feeling at this moment and is part of the narrative of her state of mind (how can one deny the evidence of her individual feeling?). That is, Tompkins substitutes the rhetoric of narrative for the rhetoric of logical disputation.

Nancy Miller's calling such writing "personal criticism" takes account of its avowedly personal, narrative voice conjoined with critical analysis. I would characterize what Tompkins does in West of Everything, however, as an "alternative criticism," or perhaps, as her former colleague and writing-group partner Torgovnick calls it, "experimental criticism." It invokes a personal voice, but its target is to investigate a set of literary or cultural texts or theoretical concepts. It deliberately avoids the normative style and manner of theory in a literary experiment with critical style. Other examples of alternative criticism range from more informal, traditional essayistic genres, such as Douglas Atkins's Estranging the Familiar: Toward a Revitalized Critical Writing (1992), [14] Terry Caesar's crotchety but revealing exposure of professional practices in the essays collected in Conspiring with Forms: Life in Academic Texts (1992), Morris Dickstein's Double Agent: The Critic and Society (1992), whose last cha pter is cast in the form of a Platonic dialogue between an old-guard critic and a contemporary theorist, to more explicitly experimental works such as Rachel Blau DuPlessis's The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice (1990) and Avital Ronell's The Telephone Book (1989) and Crack Wars: Literature Addiction Mania (1992), [15] which employ an avant-garde, fragmentary style, Ronell's short, epigrammatic statements in Crack Wars reading like theory prose poems.

Example number two: Marianna Torgovnick. In 1997, Torgovnick published Primitive Passions, which surveys the motif of primitivism in literary figures such as D.H. Lawrence and Andr[acute{e}] Gide, as well as in painting (Georgia O'Keefe) and other arts, and in contemporary cultural practices such as piercing. Though this might seem to broach the realm of contemporary cultural studies, it does not carry the socially critical edge of cultural studies (at least in the version espoused by Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, and others), but fits in the more familiar, mainstream genre of cultural criticism, in which a literary or art critic elegantly discusses "interesting" cultural phenomena. It is consciously directed to a crossover audience, desiring to extend past the confines of the academy to the grail of a "general" audience. Notably, Primitive Passions was published not by a university press but by Knopf, [16] and followed upon the commercial success of Crossing Ocean Parkway, which won an American Book Award in 1995. Though it overlaps in some respects with alternative criticism in adopting an informal, essayistic style, I would call this strand "crossover criticism," since its impetus seems more to enjoin a larger audience--and commercial success--than only to experiment with critical style or method.

Other examples include Richard Klein's Cigarettes Are Sublime (1992) and Eat Fat (1996), Cathy Davidson's The Book of Love (1992) and, with the photographer Bill Bamberger, Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory (1998), and Mark Edmundson's Nightmare on Elm Street: Angels, Sadomasochism, and the Culture of the Gothic (1997), as well as recent work by Cornel West, hooks, Gates, b[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}], Rorty, and others. Klein's makeover is especially remarkable because his earlier work was very much in the camp of psychoanalytic theory and deconstruction, and he has intermittently been a longtime editor of diacritics (hardly a glossy journal), whereas his recent Eat Fat, published by Vintage in soft cover, was a minor trade paperback bestseller halfway between a sophisticated self-help book and cultural criticism examining the cultural construction of food and weight loss. Though usually adopting a personal voice, this turn to crossover criticism has more affinities with upscale literary journal ism than personal criticism, the kind one might read in The New Yorker or Harper's, places in fact where many literary critics have published through the 90s, such as Stephen Greenblatt, Edmundson (who is a contributing editor to Harper's), Gates, B[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}], and Davidson (whose credits include Ms. and Vogue), among many others.

In the introduction to a collection she edited, Eloquent Obsessions: Writing Cultural Criticism (1994), Torgovnick lists the prerequisites for crossover criticism: (1) that it be personal; (2) that it be properly informed by research; (3) that it be text- or phenomenon-based; (4) that it not separate high from mass culture; (5) that it "make a difference" or have some sort of public relevance; and (6) that it "be aimed, at least some of the time, at a general, educated audience" (4). By her second and third rules, Torgovoick dispels any misgivings about its wildness and roots such criticism firmly in the domain of literary criticism, assuring its professional competence. And though her dicta announce the virtues of the personal, a vague tendency toward cultural studies, and a claim for public relevance, these are subordinate to the final dictum, that it be directed toward a general audience. As she explains, what is important about the personal is that the author have a personal investment in the topic (henc e "obsessions" in the title), not for the sake of personal revelation but so that the writing may be "eloquent" rather than "dutiful and dull"--in other words, so that it appeal to a general audience in a belletristic way that theory does not, and to an upscale audience that might appreciate and expect "eloquent" writing. Further, her call for attention to mass culture as well as high culture is not a radical disciplinary indictment, but fits the purview of the kind of criticism one might skim in a glossy magazine, commenting on, say, hip-hop as well as Walt Whitman. And that it "make a difference" does not announce a revolutionary aim, but specifies a relevance to a culture at large--again, that might appeal to readers of a glossy magazine in a way that an argument concerning the sign or hegemony would not. [17]

Example number three: Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates is the most protean of contemporary critics, his early books, Figures in Black: Words, Signs, and the "Racial" Self (1987) and The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (1988), difficult and involved graftings of poststructural theory (particularly de Manian deconstruction) with African-American theory and literature. Through the 1990s, he has transformed himself from theorist to one of our most prominent public men of letters, as evidenced by his 1992 Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars, Colored People, and his 1996 dialogue with West, The Future of the Race. Loose Canons is very much a crossover book, written in accessible if not breezy language addressing the then-flaring debates over the canon, political correctness, and multiculturalism (two of the essays are in the voice of a private detective, Sam Slade, about the "canon caper," and others begin with lines like "William Bennett and Allan Bloom, the dynamic duo of the ri ght[ldots]"). Rather than personal criticism, it most resembles literary journalism (several of the essays appeared in the New York Times Book Review, Newsweek, the Village Voice Literary Supplement, and Dissent, as well as academic journals). This fact is not entirely surprising given that Gates worked for Newsweek for two years early in his career. I would distinguish Gates's writing in Loose Canons, however, from the kind of crossover criticism practiced by Torgovnick and others. Because of its investment not only in reaching a general audience but in its conspicuous address of political issues of the day, I would call this "public criticism," which addresses more general, public audiences rather than narrowly academic ones, but also explicitly targets public issues, debates, and policies, whether dealing with race, multiculturalism, gender parity, violence and media, or the like. The primary impetus, presumably, is not simply for a larger readership or commercial success but more altruistically to effect political change. Venues for public criticism might include Harper's or The New Yorker, but also less glossy, "serious" magazines of cultural and political commentary, such as The Nation, Dissent, the VLS, and the New Republic.

Other examples of public criticism include Gerald Graff's Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (1992), West's Race Matters (1993), Keeping Faith (1993), and Restoring Hope (1997), B[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}]'s Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics (1994), Laura Kipnis's Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (1996), Rorty's Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (1998), and Andrew Ross's The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney's New Town (1999). In his aptly named Public Access, one of the most widely discussed critical books of the 90s, B[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}] has memorably codified the turn to public criticism, calling for academic criticism to become more accessible to public audiences, bringing postmodern theory, the canon debates, and cultural studies to the people. He closes his chapter on "Bite-Size Theory," a jeremiad against rarefied theoretical writing, with the exhortation, "Profession, Revise Thyself." Through the 1990s, that revision in critical writing has increasingly come to pass, though perhaps not always in the politically charged ways that B[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}] advocates, and though other forms of criticism, particularly "readings" that one finds in most common, non-elite academic journals, proceed apace. My point, however, is that this constitutes a revision of the dominant model of criticism, which provides our professional self-image and public justification. In most cases (though not all), this revision represents a desire to reach a larger audience; in most cases, it employs a personal or informal essayistic rather than high theoretical voice, reinvoking literary modes from autobiography to literary journalism; in most cases, it is still discipline-based, focused on the reading of literary or cultural texts; and in most cases, it is informed by the conceptual coordinates of contemporary theory.

Literature, Inc.

An emblematic moment of the 1990s occurred when Frank Lentricchia published in Lingua Franca his renunciation of Theory, "Last Will and Testament of an Ex-Literary Critic." In it, he denounces the moral superiority of contemporary theory, says he no longer reads it, and in its place extols the aesthetic pleasure of reading great literature: "My silent encounters with literature are ravishingly pleasurable, like erotic transport" (59). This follows from The Edge of Night, where he renews his vows to literature: "My allegiance is not to a literary theory but to the sum total of my liberating literary experiences" (88). Lentricchia was gladly taken up by the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics (ALSC) ("Last Will" was reprinted in their newsletter) as testimony of the corruption of contemporary criticism, bringing forward a key theory player, Saul-like, to renounce the sins of Theory and testify, Paul-like, to the re-embrace of the one true faith, the love of literature.

Though Lentricchia's case is more melodramatic than most, much of the critical writing inventoried above testifies similarly to the excesses of theory (its "emotional repression," as a "straitjacket," as a "frenzy," as a "constraint upon the imagination," as a "school of resentment," or as Lentricchia calls it, in his theogonomy, "the Devil") and to a desire to be freed to take pleasure in imaginative literature. Through the 1990s there were a number of other notable calls for a renewed "love of literature" and an appreciation of inspiration, beauty, the great tradition, and the aesthetic. Such a call was the explicit impetus for the formation of the ALSC, but what is remarkable is that it resonates among more progressive critics and former apostles of poststructural theory, like Lentricchia, Tompkins, Harold Bloom, and Rorty. In "The Inspirational Value of Great Works of Literature" (reprinted as a back-page Chronicle of Higher Education opinion piece, "The Necessity of Inspired Reading"), Rorty likewise at tacks the dry "knowingness" of contemporary criticism and urges us to rediscover the inspirational joys of literature. Paralleling Lentricchia, this joy he puts in terms of romantic love, as being "swept away" and as beginning "in wild, unreflective infatuation." It seems as if, reacting against the professionalization of modern criticism initially announced in John Crowe Ransom's "Criticism, Inc." (1938), we are now witnessing a call for the deprofessionalization of criticism and the return to an unreflectively appreciative "Literature, Inc."

In a somewhat alarmed report on the current state of criticism, The Academic Postmodern and the Rule of Literature: A Report on Half-Knowledge (1995), David Simpson highlights this return to the "traditionally literary" (19) or what he calls the "rule of literature," which he argues is based on an essentially Romantic conception of literature and the organic individual.[18] Of autobiographical criticism, he bluntly states that "such personalization brings criticism back to literature and as literature, with all the permissions literature extends in avoiding the icy waters of theory" (83). He also finds that modes of storytelling practiced in the New Historicism, cultural studies, and identity-based studies are additional evidence of the renewed "rule of literature," exhibiting "a new enthusiasm for the polite culture of anecdote and conversation" (161).[19] Simpson summarizes this turn as "localism," which he criticizes for being limited to local, individual perspectives rather than any larger history, and t hus only producing "half knowledge."

Though this return to or revaluing of literature seems undeniable, one might question the rote opposition of literature to theory, which elevates literature at the expense of theory (a good thing for Rorty, a retrograde thing for Simpson), for Theory itself was at one time celebrated, in Rorty's own well-known phrase, as "a kind of writing." In fact, a major claim of the deconstruction years was precisely the literary value that Theory had, those who espoused Theory arguing for the value of "literary commentary as literature," in Geoffrey Hartman's words, and those who opposed Theory arguing that it enviously subsumed the role of literature.[20] Moreover, recent belletristic criticism has not entirely abandoned theory, but calls upon familiar theoretical topoi, such as subjectivity and positionality, and, as I have noted, still works in fairly characteristic critical patterns. This suggests, then, that what is at stake is not simply a re-embrace of the virtues of literature, but the legitimating power of tak ing the mantle of literature as a professional rationale for our practices. The attribution of the literary, in Theory and in the new belletrism, legitimates those practices. "Literature" is not so much a definable entity as a morphing and contested register of how we justify literary studies and what we do.[21]

Following Bruce Robbins's teasing out of the ambivalences of professionalism, Simpson sees the return to literature as a "professional antiprofessionalism," rejecting the professionalization of theory for a "professionalized bohemianism" (80). One can see this in Lentricchia and Tompkins, who particularly reject graduate training, the prime zone of professional formation, as well as the effects that professionalization--coded as Theory--has wrought on them.[22] They hark back to an innocent time of literary appreciation, before professionalization. The move toward literature, however, is not simply antiprofessionalism, but casts a different version of professionalism, re-introducing categories such as appreciation and popular accessibility to revamp a public rationale. As a case in point, B[aucte{e}]rub[aucte{e}]'s argues for a plainer, more literary style in Public Access precisely to explain matters academic to the public, "bite-sizing" academic research for public venues if not soundbites. The impetus is to stave off public misrepresentations of humanities research common during the culture wars, public misrepresentations that were materially damaging, correlated with reduced research funding, greater teaching loads, larger class sizes, lower salaries (especially for nonpermanent teachers), and other familiar facts of contemporary academic life. [23] In other words, whatever its immediately personal motivations, the new belletrism does not simply record an escape from professionalism to the personal or the literary, but calls forth belletristic modes as a more effective version of professionalism for the 1990s and into the new century.

In a recent Chronicle feature, continuing its remarkably attentive coverage of recent criticism, Scott Heller reports that "Wearying of Cultural Studies, Some Scholars Rediscover Beauty." This further asserts the establishment of Literature, Inc., but rather than seeing it as deriving from a simple, abstract love of beauty and aesthetic appreciation of literature, the Chronicle attributes it to a response to a perceived public demand: "And in an era of Oprah's Book Club and the Modern Library's Top 100 novels, the general reader wants help from experts in making judgments" (A16). One might point out that there have always been, at least in the age of modern newsprint, "Top 100" lists, and that book reviewing has long been a staple of newspapers and magazines, performed by many moonlighting academics as well as professional journalists, so this does not entirely explain why this public need arises now, or why academic critics (rather than journalists) might be drafted to fill it. The article goes on, however, to quote Giles Gunn: "The public doesn't much understand--and isn't much interested in supporting--a humanities that doesn't address the aesthetic." [24] Gunn gets to the heart of the matter: it is not so much for the sake of the public (again, journalists seem to have that public need covered), but for the sake of the profession, particularly in a time of contested material support. Whereas Theory spoke to a professionalist, specialized audience, the new belletrism beckons to a more general, public audience. The new belletrism relegitimates the value of the profession by explicitly answering a perceived public demand in a way that Theory could not redepositing the gold standard of literature and its aesthetic value.

To place this claim in a longer view, Ransom's "Criticism, Inc.," a pre-World War II manifesto announcing the New Criticism, is surprisingly not an argument for New Critical tenets (in the way that, say, "The Intentional Fallacy" is), but for the value of criticism as the distinctive practice that asserts the special professional position of academic professors of literature. Invoking an almost textbook model of professionalism, Ransom claims that criticism offers autonomous professional control, on the order of a business monopoly--hence, "Criticism, Inc." [25] In the context of the postwar university, as Graff shows in Professing Literature, the New Critical practice provided a reproducible pedagogical method for the massive influx of students in the burgeoning American university system. It was thereby adopted as the dominant professional practice because it fulfilled this need and offered the most compelling professional rationale. [26]

In contrast to the pedagogical need that the New Criticism fulfilled, I would argue that Theory gained dominance to fulfill a different need, that of the developing research university from the 1960s through the 1980s. [27] Theory reconstituted our work and professional rationale explicitly as research rather than teaching, reorganizing literary study as Theory, Inc. It projected a distinctive research agenda for literary study, that, rather than merely poems or novels, we study the nature of language, sign systems, the processes of interpretation and knowledge, and the formative forces of gender and other social factors in human life. (Ironically, then, although conservatives are right when they say that we have neglected the study of literature for theory, this is not due to our perversity but to our institutional conditions.) Within the university, it provided a technocratic expertise and cachet for literature, in competition with or measured against other faculties, in particular those in the social scie nces, which deal with human rather than physical matters, and in emulation of the physical science faculties. [28] Though the humanities have notoriously little utilitarian value (at least for modern industry), the humanities piggybacked onto the massively funded sciences. As the biologist R. C. Lewontin observes of the research university,

Some discrepancy in teaching obligation is tolerated between molecular biologists and literary critics, but there is a limit to how much discrepancy can be maintained within an institution. Lower teaching loads [and one might add higher research demands] in science have meant lower teaching loads [and higher research requirements] in the humanities. There is also a limit to how much discrepancy in salary scales will be tolerated between disciplines, and research income from grants and contracts provides general university funding for raising salaries. (30)

The new belletrism responds to yet a different need, and to a new historical conjuncture, of the massive decline of funding for public programs in general (the welfare state) and to universities in particular. As is probably familiar to anyone working in a university, since the 1980s there has been an increasingly greater demand for more direct public accountability and a parallel demand for private funding. Disciplines are expected to pay their own way. This no longer erases but exacerbates what Lewontin calls the discrepancy between the utilitarian or fundable sciences and the humanities, which cannot compete for research funding on any utilitarian scale (Jacques Derrida's discoveries of the slippages of the sign have not resulted in a patent saleable to MTV in the way that discoveries in biochemistry have generated massive funds, or even the way that sociology might yield marketing profiles). Within this context, the new belletrism provides a new rationale--Literature, Inc.--that downplays previous claims of quasi-scientific theoretical research, but reasserts precisely the discrepant and distinctive value of the literary, as yielding not practical results but spiritual or aesthetic enjoyment and fulfillment. It profits from rather than dispels its intangibility (beauty, truth, etc.), reasserting the pseudo-religious function of literature, the realm of emotion and pleasure that cannot be tangibly measured on a spread sheet and that promises a salve to the alienation of modern capitalism (part of the traditional value of literature has been its opposition to business). [29] And it claims to abandon its specialist focus for a renewed address to "the common reader," to the public sphere, thereby asserting its public value. In a sense, the new belletrism recasts criticism as a kind of public relations--as readily accessible to a general, public audience--for the jeopardized humanities, which cannot live, or would live on much reduced fare, on teaching alone. (One could see B[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}]'s call for the public availability of our work as a call for better public relations, and tellingly the MLA has hired public relations people and lobbyists since the mid-1990s. [30])

The new belletrism also provides a renewed teaching rationale that reinvokes the language of pleasure and appreciation suitable for undergraduate rather than graduate courses. It thus offers a professional prescription for literary studies to pay its own way--through more teaching, a role revived as a ground of pleasure (see Lentricchia's praise of undergraduate over graduate teaching). It opens for the university of the 21st century, where the leisure and resources for research will decrease or extend more selectively, at the most elite universities or for select groups of professors at other universities. Lest this seem alarmist, one can see the groundwork for this in the increasingly bipartite system of academic labor, in the vastly increased use of part-timers and term contracts, and in the creation of differential positions such as "teaching specialists" as opposed to researchers. In a sense, this might represent a return to the role humanities held in the university before the influx of massive Cold-Wa r research money, that of the responsibility for teaching writing and appreciation for humanistic values rather than producing "research."

The Person of Letters

In the introduction to Eloquent Obsessions, Torgovnick gives her prescribed model of criticism this telling genealogy: "In the last two centuries, in England and the United States, people who wrote literature often also wrote cultural criticism: Samuel Johnson, Thomas Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, John Stuart Mill, Zora Neale Hurston, and George Orwell, for example. They set a high standard of writing" (2). [31] Though this is not an entirely surprising genealogy for those in literature, it differs markedly from the kind of genealogy one would expect in the Theory years, which would more likely cite Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, Weber, and perhaps contemporary luminaries such as Derrida, Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and so on. It explicitly yokes the writing of cultural criticism with those who "write literature," and Torgovnick goes on to induct several mid-twentieth century crossover critics, such as Edmund Wilson, Hannah Arendt, and Lionel Trilling, into her camp. She specifies that these critics might co mment on a variety of topics, including "literature and the arts (German Kultur), educational traditions and philosophies, fads and fashions, political or historical events and movements, moods and manners" (3). In other words, Torgovnick invokes the image of the man or woman of letters as the model for the academic critic, as one who surveys the broad, general domain of culture and the "human condition" and does so in a "writerly," "eloquent," literary way.

Simpson, in rooting the return to the literary in Romanticism, essentially sees the model of the critic as following that of the Wordsworthian poet, who reembraces expressivity and celebrates individual perspective. While the general attitude toward literature might loosely derive from a Romantic ideology, I would see the model of the critic instead as more directly linked to the tradition of belles lettres, exemplified by late nineteenth-century figures such as John Ruskin and Walter Pater and carried over into the twentieth century by once prominent but now forgotten critics such as John Livingston Lowes, for instance in his bestselling Essays in Appreciation (1936). [32] The role of the critic is appreciative (eloquently obsessed, in Torgovnick's expression), inspired by and loving literature and culture; it is determined, in Walter Benjamin's terms of the "author as producer," by his or her "position in the process of production," and takes a service position, as a literary expositor, extolling and expla ining things literary to a public in largely journalistic venues. The competition, in other words, is not with the poets; rather, as I shall discuss in a moment, with journalists.

Ironically, the image that Ransom argues to displace in "Criticism, Inc." is precisely that of the man of letters and appreciative critics like Lowes. The man of letters was figured as amateur and idiosyncratic, set against the model of the professional expert and more systematic academic critic. [33] Now, however, the new belletrism represents the readoption of a belletristic manner and address to a general audience, fused with academic discourse, promising to repair the current public image of the academic critic by dispelling the image of expertise run amok to obscure overspecialization and professional self-interest. How successful this crossover and feint to capture a large audience actually is remains to be seen, but my point is that it reveals an imaginary professional vista, of how we justify our work rather than how we are actually perceived, or what most of us actually do. My point is also that this is not necessarily good or bad, but another open question, promising on the one hand greater public relevance (public intellectuals with a renewed civic consciousness) while on the other hand invoking the dilettantish aspects of belles lettres (public intellectuals as self-indulgent celebrities). In a sense, this is the constitutive tension of literary studies and claims for the distinctiveness of literature, a tension between claims of its socially useful virtues and of its special and useless refinement.

The shift to the new belletrism, then, reconfigures the image of the academic literary critic from that of a specialist scholar emulating the social or hard sciences, and the literature faculty engaged in an intra-university competition with the social sciences, to a person of letters emulating highbrow journalism. This does not play out as a contest of the faculties in the ordinary sense, but follows we model of journalism as an applied or practical discipline projecting an extra-university provenance, its goal not primarily to produce research or intra-university credentials but publicly available work. To put it another way, this testifies to what I would call the journalization of academic criticism.

This change occurs in two ways: in the topics and style of academic criticism itself--highbrow journalistic letters, as I have detailed--proffered to an imagined public, and in the influence of journalism as a measure and judge of criticism, beyond simply peer review, that enforces a public demand or standard upon academic criticism. Of the latter, as Bourdieu observes of contemporary intellectual work, "a growing part of cultural production is dictated, so far as its publication date, topic, title, format, volume, contents, and style are concerned, by the expectations of journalists upon whose coverage it depends" (665). One can see this in the growing prominence and influence of Chronicle of Higher Education coverage of the humanities through the 1990s, and the rise of Lingua Franca, which only published its first issue in 1990. In some ways, mediating the topics, content, and style of academic criticism, they have become recognized measures of academic visibility, timeliness, and success. It is no acciden t that the Chronicle has conspicuously covered shifts in recent criticism, not only by reporting events in the field but by privileging kinds of criticism with which it has affinity, such as belletristic or public criticism. (One might also see the proclivity toward racy paper titles, such as Sedgwick's famous "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," as part of journalization; one suspects that people now vie for the MLA paper title that will be picked up by the New York Times.)

One can also see this in the "Routledgizing" of academic publishing, in the precipitous shift to more discernibly marketable topics to produce books that are timely and "sexy," in a more accessible style, in shorter lengths, with larger print runs and with more attractive covers, and that presumably garner larger audiences. This shift is due not to a loss of serious purpose (one could instead see it as a gain in public purpose), but to the material exigencies of university funding and the demand for academic presses to be self-supporting if not profit-earning, as well as to the journalized ethos of the intellectual public sphere. A related factor is the decrease in university library funding, no longer guaranteeing minimal break-even sales that effectively subsidized low selling academic books. Another related factor is the rise of bookstore chains, such as Barnes and Noble or Borders, that set the terms for publishing and mandate immediately saleable titles, a standard that very few normal academic books ca n reach.

To offer a final example, one can also see the journalization of criticism in the recent turn in editorial direction of Critical Inquiry. [34] Though this case is admittedly partial, I take it as significant because Critical Inquiry has been the journal of record for theory for the last twenty-five years, and has maintained a dominant position on the critical scene, when other filial journals, such as New Literary History or boundary 2, have ceded place as leading journals to which young scholars might devotedly go to find vanguard work. In the last two years, Critical Inquiry has featured essays such as Carlo Rotella's "Good with Her Hands: Women, Boxing, and Work," Kipnis's "Adultery," and Stacy Olster's "'Two People Who Didn't Argue, Even, Except over the Use of the Subjunctive': Jean Harris, the Scarsdale Diet Doctor Murder, and Diana Trilling." [35] Rotella's and Olster's essays are essentially journalistic reports of curious cultural phenomena, Rotella's of the growing sport of women's boxing in wester n Pennsylvania and Olster's of the events of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor Murder. [36] More than most writing on Marxism, Kipnis's essay takes a slightly different mode, a dense consideration of capitalism and monogamy but in a hip-toned, highly stylized manner, containing lines like, "Yes, of course, we all understand jealousy" (300), and overtly addressed to the second person, "you," reminiscent of contemporary fiction (such as that of Lorrie Moore) Notably, Rotella and Kipnis have both had essays in recent issues of Harper's and other mainstream journalistic venues, as well as academic ones.

What I find especially telling about these writers is not only their broaching a kind of belletristic writing, but that they-and B[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}], Michael Warner (who writes regularly for the VLS), and others--represent a new generation or cohort of academy-based critics, all roughly around forty, who came to professional prominence in the 1990s. That is, their story is not that of conversion or renunciation of their Theory pasts, as frequently seems to be the case of those writing academic autobiographies, who comprised what might be called the Theory generation and came to prominence in the 1980s, and before, and who are now retroactively reassessing their own professional life stories. The story of those in the latter gerneration is one of a naturalized new belletrism, that of a posttheory generation assuming the backdrop of Theory and cultural studies but deliberately aiming to address and impact a public culture, in journalistic as well as academic venues, and stretching academic venues to encom pass more journalized, publicly relevant forms. In other words, the new belletrism is not merely a midlife crisis but is here to stay, and the new critical inquirer of the turn of the century is a person who, as Kipnis puts it in another essay, surveys current cultural phenomena "with style."

Jeffrey Williams ( teaches at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He is the editor of the minnesota review. He is the author of Theory and the Novel: Reflexivity in the British Tradition (1998) and editor of PC Wars. Politics and Theory in the Academy (1995).


(1.) To name two well-known examples, in "Me and my Shadow" Jane Tompkins famously and infamously mentions putting off going to the bathroom while sitting at her desk, and in The Edge of Night Frank Lentricchia analogizes his penis to a chainsaw. Also, the last chapter of Nancy K. Miller's Getting Personal is entitled "My Father's Penis."

(2.) A diverse range of critics testify to the establishment of this "new" criticism: Nancy K. Miller, in Getting Personal (1991), examines "the current proliferation in literary studies of autobiographical or personal criticism" (ix); in 1992 Susan David Bernstein surveys "the eruption of first-person voices in critical discourse in recent years" (120); David Simpson, in The Academic Postmodern and the Rule of Literature (1995) quips that "There is a virtual stampede into autobiography on the part of literary critics" (82); and H. Aram Veeser, the prime anthologist of the new historicism, announces in a new anthology, Confessions of the Critics (1996), that "Nowadays, autobiographical criticism has come into general use" (x).

Alongside these scholarly accounts, there has also been a stream of journalistic accounts, especially in The Chronicle of Higher Education, such as Scott Heller's "Experience and Expertise Meet in New Brand of Scholarship" (1992) (see also McMillen, Behar, and Patai), and in Lingua Franca, in features such as Adam Begley's "The I's Have It" (1994).

(3.) To be more exact, there are many different if not competing modes of criticism extant at the same time: theory has hardly died out, and informs now-common practices such as cultural studies, identity studies, "body" studies, and so on. One can also still find presumably outmoded, pre-Theory modes in use, such as philology (in Anglo-Saxon textual studies, for instance), or bibliography (in the pages of Style), or textual criticism (in Renaissance literary history, for instance). However, what interests me here is the assertion of "personal criticism" and its claims for dominance as the representative critical mode of the profession.

(4.) Her collection, Reader-Response Criticism (1980), was a foundational text in establishing High Theory, and her influential study. Sensational Designs, a feminist reception-history arguing for a revisionary look at nineteenth-century sentimental novels, had just come out two years before.

(5.) See also Sedgwick's essay, in Tendencies, "White Glasses," and the eighteenth-century critic William Epstein's "Tryouts: A Memoir," which marks a far different kind of writing than what one normally expects in the home of high theory, Critical Inquiry.

(6.) With the exception perhaps of Pritchard, who is of a slightly older generation and not a fan of theory, all of the others also had significant critical reputations before the publication of their autobiographies, Phelan on narrative, Kaplan on fascism in French culture, Davidson on early American literature, Torgovnick on the novel and primitivism, hooks on feminism, and Siebers on criticism. B[acute{e}]rub[acute{e}] presents a slightly different case, since he is of what I have called the "posttheory generation," but he had already published a work on American literature and canon formation, Marginal Forces/Cultural Centers (1991).

(7.) Kaplan, Torgovnick, Tompkins, Davidson, Sedgwick, and Lentricchia all taught at Duke through the late 1980s and 1990s, as did Gates briefly in the late 1 1980s. Begley's journalistic account focuses on the Duke critics, though one could see the rise of personal criticism more accurately through the mediation of feminism, as Nancy Miller does (see also Freedman et al., The Intimate Critique). Whatever its origins, the fact that this mode has been adopted so widely testifies to its insitutional establishment.

(8.) This is suggested not only by opponents but in an interview with Frank Lentricchia, where he talks about being "burned out" from doing criticism.

(9.) One could cite myriad examples, such as Lionel Trilling's assessment of the bleakness of modernist literature, which starts by telling of his dismay at the nonplussed responses of his students at Columbia. What comes immediately to mind on the present scene is the new historicism, particularly the work of Stephen Greenblatt; one might also think of the well-known passage in D. A. Miller's The Novel and the Police, where, after a long discussion of Woman in White, he briefly tells of his back spasms.

(10.) To my knowledge, I am the first to label it as a "new belletrism," and organized an MLA panel in 1994 to account for the different strands I distinguish here. I used this term because it struck me that the changes in critical writing encompassed more than simply autobiography, and spoke to a revision of the imagined audience of criticism and the public rationale of literary scholarship and the profession. For a discussion of what to call it with some of the principals, see my interview with Davidson, Kaplan, Tompkins, and Torgovnick (Williams, "Writing in Concert"); they prefer "creative criticism" (66), which obviously touches upon its literary mode. Douglas Hesse uses the term "the new belletrism" in an article discussing writers such as Annie Dillard or John McPhee, in other words applied to what would normally be seen as nonacademic, trade nonfiction. I use it to account for current permutations of academic criticism.

(11.) On the tropes that mediate critical change, see my "The Death of Deconstruction, the End of Theory, and Other Ominous Rumors," which is a related essay eventually to form a book, provisionally called The Theory Market.

(12.) One could adduce many examples, for instance, through a survey of those humanities critics who have written for the New York Review of Books in the past twenty years.

(13.) See Culler's brief sketch of the rise of theory from the "phase where theory was something unnecessary" (201-02) and thought obscure and irrelevant, to its proliferation through the 1970s and 1980s.

(14.) See also his College English essay, "Envisioning the Stranger's Heart," which is an argument about writing pedagogy but uses his personal memories of being taught writing to demonstrate his point. Atkins was one of the early fans of deconstruction, as evidenced by his book, Reading Deconstruction-- Deconstructive Reading (1983), that is written in a turgid, high-deconstructive style. For another example, see also Michael Ryan's Politics and Letters (1989), whose last chapter weaves a story of being violently abused as a child with an argument for a "post-revolutionary" society.

(15.) Ronell, very much a deconstructive critic, develops a kind of Nietzschean fragmentary style. There's a way in which one could see Derrida's later works as experimental criticism, and this avant-gardist line as incipient in the initial pronouncements for deconstructive criticism.

(16.) In a sense, Torgovnick's Primitive Passions is a more commercial rewriting of her earlier Gone Primitive, published in 1990 by University of Chicago Press. Her first book is a fairly staid consideration of a literary "problem," Closure in the Novel (Princeton UP, 1981). Crossing Ocean Parkway is an amalagm of autobiographical essays and critical essays (for instance, on Camille Paglia), so showing the permeability of the two categories of personal criticism and alternative criticism.

(17.) For instance, Davidson and Bamberger's Closing is a kind of coffeetable book, with photographs, nostalgic for the days of a well-run factory, rather than a radical critique of labor practices in such factories, or of the global economy that outsources labor.

(18.) Mike Hill also astutely notes Romantic resonances, citing Wordsworth's 1802 Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, where Wordsworth first invokes "experimental writing," an experiment which consists of injecting "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling" and "the language of the common man."

(19.) I see the new belletrism as more directly adopting the mantle of Literature, whereas I see cultural studies as a medial moment that exhibits the language and conceptual base of theory, but does so in diffuse ways. In my view, cultural studies remains very much an academic mode, not a popular one. To put it in terms of a paradigm shift, cultural studies represents the intercession between paradigms, in which the paradigm of theory spreads out without yet being supplanted.

(20.) Hartman begins Criticism in the Wilderness: "What follows is an attempt to bring together my reading of criticism with my reading of literature: to view criticism, in fact, as within literature, not outside looking in" (1). One might also think of J. Hillis Miller's "The Critic as Host"; the general thrust of deconstruction was to break down the assumed opposition between criticism as external or derivative and literature as central and primary. See Rorty's pivotal essay on Derrida "Philosophy as a Kind of Writing" and Hartman's chapter, "Literary Commentary as Literature."

(21.) In recent calls to return to literature, the way that literature is invoked is somewhat naive; literature becomes a metaphysical entity rather an historical category, a naivet[acute{e}] one would have thought dispelled by much historical work in early modern studies on the rise of "literature" as we know it in the eighteenth century. For a pivotal corrective, see Raymond Williams's chapter on "Literature" in Marxism and Literature.

(22.) What distinguishes autobiographical criticism from general memoirs is that they recount distinctively academic narratives. (They differ markedly from, for instance, the many autobiographies of the New York Intellectuals.) They are professional bildungsroman, narrating the effects that professionalization--aka theory--has wrought.

(23.) I assume that this situation is all too familiar to us, so will forego adducing statistics and sources. For an account of the direct connection between the culture wars and public funding of universities, though, see Paul Lauter's "'Political Correctness' and the Attack on American Colleges"; for a well-documented account of the decline of teaching staff--and hence jeopardizing our professional position--see Ernst Benjamin's "Declining Faculty Availability to Students Is the Problem--But Tenure Is Not the Explanation."

(24.) To be precise, the aesthetic is arguably the most theoretically laden topic in the history of criticism, and it has hardly been neglected in contemporary theory, receiving notable attention from deconstruction (de Man's posthumous Aesthetic Ideology), Marxism (say, Adorno and many others, up to Eagleton's The Ideology of the Aesthetic), and reception theory (Jauss's "Literary History as a Challenge to Literary Theory"). What Gunn means, one assumes, is the colloquial sense of the aesthetic, as common appreciation.

(25.) As Ransom puts it, "Rather than occasional criticism by amateurs, I should think the whole enterprise might be seriously taken in hand by professionals. Perhaps I use a distasteful figure, but I have the idea that what we need is Criticism, Inc., or Criticism, Ltd." (329). The standard theory of professions has it that professions attribute a public need, exclusively accredit those who can fulfill that need, thereby establishing monopolistic control. This control functions for those within the profession to attain autonomy from business or government. See M. S. Larson's standard account, The Rise of Professionalism.

(26.) In offering a synthetic history of modern criticism, Catherine Gallagher attributes the New Critics' success to their "[fighting] hard to take over the discipline, founding academic journals, setting up summer instittues, working tirelessly in the Modern Language Association" (157). This correctly accounts for the New Critics' institutional savviness, but still inokes an internal history, that critical practices are established by the will of critics, rather than because of the socio-institutional and historical needs that criticism might fulfill. This move, even by a historically minded critic like Gallagher, is symptomatic of the usual autonomous way to see critical history; I propose instead a materialist history of criticism.

(27.) On the exponential growth of the research university post-World War II, see Roger L. Geiger's Research and Relevant Knowledge: American Research Universities since World War II. Geiger recounts the curve of federal funding originating in the 1950s, peaking in the l960s and early 1970s, and declining thereafter, shifting to funding from private industry. At the risk of vulgar historicizing, I find this latter shift central to current changes in criticism; there is a slight lag between actual funding and changes in criticism.

(28.) A commonly accepted view is that the humanities, with a kind of chip on its shoulder, competed with the hard sciences. In a corrective of the "Two Cultures" view, Elizabeth Wilson shows how the humanities shaped itself in contest with the social sciences.

(29.) See Terry Eagleton's lively "Rise of English," which argues that literature replaced religion in the late nineteenth century (Eagleton provides concrete historical evidence for Althusser's seeing the schools as the prime contemporary ideological apparatus, supplanting the role of churches).

(30.) Interestingly, despite his criticism of the ineffectuality of political critics such as B[aucte{e}]rub[acute{e}], Stanley Fish closes his recent Professional Correctness by advising that we hire lobbyists. B[aucte{e}]rube's advice is that we do it ourselves, whereas Fish advises that we hire out.

(31.) As an interesting point of comparison, Richard Rorty presents a similar genealogy for contemporary criticism, only his impetus is precisely to justify the age of theory: "Beginning in the days of Goethe and Macauley and Carlyle and Emerson, a kind of writing has developed which is neither the evaluation of the relative merits of literary productions, nor intellectual history, nor moral philosophy, nor epistemology, nor social prophecy, but all these things mingle together into a new genre. This genre is often still called 'literary criticism' for an excellent reason. The reason is that in the course of the nineteenth century imaginative literature took the place of both religion and philosophy in forming an solacing the agonized conscience of the young" ("Professionalized" 66). Now it seems that, instead of theory, the new belletrism has taken the position of forming the young, or at least literary professionals, replacing precisely those "spiritual" values deprived through the death of religion.

(32.) See John Gross's study, The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters, which traces the shift from the moralistic tone of the Victorian men of letters to an emphasis on appreciation from the late 1870s until the First World War (131). Gross defines a man of letters as "a writer of the second rank, a critic, someone who aimed higher than journalism but made no pretence of being primarily an artist" (xiii).

(33.) As Gross remarks, "Much of the over-emphasis on secondary scholarship, like the earlier preoccupation with philology, springs from the need to prove that English is as 'professional' a subject as any other, and to remove any lingering taint of belles-lettres" (295). As an interesting point of comparison, Edward Said stresses the proper role of the critic in his recent Representations of the Intellectual as that of the amateur. A student of Blackmur's, and a writer on high culture (music) for the Nation, it would also be easy to see Said as a belletrist. Like Lentricchia, he has also stated that he no longer reads theory, that we should return to the canon, and he is now finishing a memoir.

(34.) In a retrospective, "Twenty Years of Critical Inquiry," W. J. T. Mitchell offers this editorial statement: "One notable result of CI's intellectual independence, openness to experimentation, and willingness to negotiate standards of 'good' writing and 'general' interest," resulting in a certain unpredictability in what and whom we publish" (703).

(35.) Epstein's "Tryouts: A Memoir," as noted previously, occurs in the same issue as Olster's; it would be hard to imagine a similar essay in Critical Inquiry ten years earlier.

(36.) As my colleague Andy Hoberek pointed out to me, Rotella's essay is no doubt the first time Critical Inquiry has carried phrases like "a big, light-skinned black guy" (598).

Works Cited

Atkins, G. Douglas. "Envisioning the Stranger's Heart." College English 56 (1994): 629-41.

___. Estranging the Familiar: Toward a Revitalized Critical Writing. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1992.

___. Reading Deconstruction--Deconstructive Reading. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1983.

Barthes, Roland. "The Reality Effect." The Rustle of Language. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1986. 141-48.

Begley, Adam. "The I's Have It: Duke's 'Moi' Critics Expose Themselves," Lingua Franca March 1994:54-59.

Behar, Ruth. "Dare We Say 'I'?: Bringing the Personal into Scholarship." The Chronicle of Higher Education 29 June 1994: B1-2.

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