Geslin, Nicole
Department of Linguistics
University of Natal, Durban, South Africa

Dr. Nicole Geslin
Department of Linguistics
University of Natal
Durban 4041, South Africa

Phone +27 (0)31 260-1255
fax: +27 (0)31 2601253

Strand: discourse English

Title: Writing literary criticism

This paper is intended as an exploratory study of the discourse of professional literary criticism. Extracts from texts representative of two influential schools of literary criticism are analysed: the first one was written by F.R. Leavis, whose writings, to a large extent, established the field of literary criticism in England in the 1930s, and the second one was written by Paul de Man, representative of the deconstruction movement which, when it emerged in the 1980s in America, was seen as posing a fundamental threat to the field.

The analysis of these texts is restricted to those textual features which encode ideational meanings and are shaped by the contextual feature of field, the set of activities which academic literary critics engage in, in order to interpret literary texts. Thus, the patterns of transitivity, grammatical metaphors, nominal groups and lexical sets, which constitute a powerful index of the representation of experience for literary critics, are compared and contrasted in the two extracts by Leavis and de Man.

The aim of this analysis is primarily to identify some of the key ideological assumptions which underlie the task of interpreting literary texts within the academic community, across the two registers of liberal humanist criticism and deconstruction. The analysis shows the powerful way in which academic literary criticism transforms its appearance in response to societal pressure, while elaborating and conserving its institutional power, thus ensuring its survival. A consideration of the implications of these findings for the socialisation of learners into the discourse of English Studies concludes the paper.