At War with the Word: Literary Theory and Liberal Education

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9781932236194: At War with the Word: Literary Theory and Liberal Education

R.V. Young examines the dominant trends in literary theory during the past thirty years, chronicling their effect on the teaching of literature and the imparting of a liberal education.

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About the Author:

R. V. Young is Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the English Department at North Carolina State University. He is a co-founder and joint editor of the John Donne Journal. His published essays and public lectures cover a wide variety of moral and religious topics as well as on Renaissance and twentieth-century literary theory. His books include At War with the Word: Literary Theory and Liberal Education, Richard Crashaw and the Spanish Golden Age, a bilingual edition of Justus Lipsius' Principles of Letter Writing (with M. Thomas Hester), and Doctrine and Devotion in Seventeenth Century Literature (forthcoming).

From Publishers Weekly:

Plenty of readers and teachers find the theories that govern English departmentsAthe deconstruction of the '80s, or the Marxian New Historicism of the '90sAdepressing, limited, aesthetically insensitive, even morally disturbing. But few such readers and teachers will take comfort from this self-righteous book, which attacks most academic criticism on behalf of conservative Catholic theology. Young, a professor of English at North Carolina State University, defends the New Critics of the 1940s, attacks deconstruction's Nietzschean roots, slashes away at left-wing historicists and ties literary theorists' failings to judges' broad readings of the Constitution. Young is right to claim that the New Critics are routinely misunderstood and belittled, and fascinating when he showsAwith help from St. Augustine and Flannery O'ConnorAwhere deconstructionists and Christians agree (roughly, both deny that human work alone can find or fix meaning or value). His rhetoric sometimes overheats: "Derrida wasn't there when Jesus raised the dead, so he has made a career of killing the Logos and burning down the house of reason." Elsewhere, Young is less defensive than offensive: he comes out for quarantining AIDS patients "when necessary." When he later writes that many critics "test positive for Marxist assumptions even when they do not have active cases of Marxism," he comes off as tasteless, not funny. Young maintains that anyone who rejects total relativism ought to come around to Christian belief; for him, theory and abortion rights alike manifest "a culture that is intellectually and morally decadent." Readers who may be dismayed to find themselves agreeing with Young will, nevertheless, be gladdened by the prospect that, as he writes, "The salvation of literature will be effected, finally, by the inherent value of literary works themselves."
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