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Terry Eagleton "Introduction : What is Literature?

" If there is such a thing as literary theory, then it would seem obvious that there is something called literature which it is the theory of. We can begin, then, by raising the uestion: what is literature? There have been various attem!ts to define literature. "ou can define it, for e#am!le, as $imaginative$ writing in the sense of fiction %writing which is not literally true. &ut even the briefest reflection on what !eo!le commonly include under the heading of literature suggests that this will not do. 'eventeenth% century English literature includes 'ha(es!eare, Webster , )arvell and )ilton* but it also stretches to the essays of +rancis &acon, the sermons of ,ohn -onne, &unyan$s s!iritual autobiogra!hy and whatever it was that 'ir Thomas &rowne wrote. It might even at a !inch be ta(en to encom!ass .obbes$s Leviathan or /larendon$s .istory of the 0ebellion. +rench seventeenth% century literature contains, along with /omeille and 0acine, La 0ochefoucauld$s ma#ims, &ossuet$s funeral s!eeches, &oileau$s treatise on !oetry, )adame de 'evigne$s letters to her daughter and the !hiloso!hy of -escartes and 1ascal. 2ineteenth%century English literature usually includes Lamb 3though not &entham4, )acaulay 3but not )ar#4, )ill 3but not -arwin or .erbert '!encer4. 5 distinction between $fact$ and $fiction$* then, seems unli(ely to get us very far, not least because the distinction itself is often a uestionable one. It has been argued, for instance, that our own o!!osition between $historical$ and $artistic$ truth does not a!!ly at all to the early Icelandic sagas. l In the English late si#teenth and early seventeenth centuries, the word $novel$ seems to have been used about both true and fictional events, and even news re!orts were hardly to be considered factual. 2ovels and news re!orts were neither clearly factual nor clearly fictional: our o6 shar! discriminations between these categories sim!ly did not a!!ly. 7ibbon no doubt thought that he was writing historical truth, and so !erha!s did the authors of 7enesis, but they are now read as$ fact$ by some and $fiction$ by others* 2ewman* certainly thought his theological meditations were true, but they are now for many readers $literature$ .)oreover, if $literature includes much $factual$ writing, it also e#cludes uite a lot of fiction. 'u!erman comic and )ills and &oon novels are fiction but not generally regarded as literature, and certainly not Literature. If literature is $creative$ or $imaginative$ writing does this im!ly that history, !hiloso!hy and natural science a uncreative and unimaginative?

1erha!s one needs a different (ind of a!!roach altogether. 1erha!s literature is definable not according to whether it is fictional or $imaginative$, but because it uses language in !eculiar ways. 8n this theory, literature is a (ind of writing which, in the words of the 0ussian critic 0oman ,acobson, re!resents an $organi9ed violence committed on ordinary s!eech$. Literature transforms and intensifies ordinary language, deviates systematically from everyday s!eech. If you a!!roach me at bus sto! and murmur $Thou still unravished bride of uietness$ then I am instantly aware that I am in the !resence of the literary. I (now this because the te#ture, rhythm and resonance of your words are in e#cess of their abstract able meaning %or as the linguists might more technically !ut it, there is dis!ro!ortion between the signifies and the signifies "our language draws attention to itself, flaunts its material being, as statements li(e $-on$t you (now the drivers are on stri(e?$ do not. This, in effect, was the definition of the $literary$ advanced by the 0ussian formalists, who included in their ran(s :i(tor 'h;ovs(y, 0oman ,a(obson, 8si! &ri(, "ury Tynyanov, &oris Eichenbaum and &oris Tomashevs(y. The +ormalists emerged in 0ussia in the years before the ;<;= &olshevi( revolution, and flourished throughout the ;<>?s, until they were effectively silenced by 'talinism. 5 militant, !olemical grou! of critics: they re@ected the uasi%mystical symbolist doctrines which had influenced literary criticism before them, and in a !ractical, scientific s!irit shifted attention to the material reality of the literary te#t itself. /riticism should dissociate art from mystery and concern itself with how literary te#ts actually wor(ed. Literature was not !seudo%religion or !sychology or sociology but a !articular organi9ation of language. It had its own s!ecific laws, structures and devices, which were to be studied in themselves rather than reduced to something else. The literary wor( was neither a vehicle for ideas, a reflection of social reality nor the incarnation of some transcendental truth. it was a material fact, whose functioning could be analy9ed rather as one could e#amine a machine. It was made of words, not of ob@ects or feelings, and it was a mista(e to see it as the e#!ression of an author$s mind. 1ush(in$s Eugene 8negin, 8si! &ri( once airily remar(ed, would have been written even if 1ush(in had not lived. +ormalism was essentially the a!!lication of linguistics to the study of literature* and because the linguistics in uestion were of a formal (ind, concerned with the structures of language rather than with what one might actually say, the +ormalists !assed over the analysis of literary $content$ 3where one might always be tem!ted into !sychology

or sociology4 for the study of literary form. +ar from seeing form as the e#!ression of content, they stood the relationshi! on its head: content was merely the $motivation$ of form, an occasion or convenience for a !articular (ind of formal e#ercise. -on Aui#ote is not $about$ the character of that name: the character is @ust a device for holding together different (inds of narrative techni ue. 5nimal +arm for the +ormalists would not be an allegory of 'talinism* on the contrary, 'talinism would sim!ly !rovide a useful o!!ortunity for the construction of an allegory. It was this !erverse insistence which won for the +ormalists their derogatory name from their antagonists* and though they did not deny that art had a relation to social reality %indeed some of them were closely associated with the &olshevi(s %they !rovocatively claimed that this relation was not the critic$s business. The +ormalists started out by seeing the literary wor( as a more or less arbitrary assemblage of $devices$, and only later came to see these devices as interrelated elements or $functions$ within a total te#tual system. $-evices$ included sound, imagery , rhythm, synta#, metre, rhyme, narrative techni ues, in fact the whole stoc( of formal literary elements* and what all of these elements had in common was their $estrangement?*$ or $defamiliari9ing$ effect. What was s!ecific to literary language, what distinguished it from other forms of discourse, was that it deformed$ ordinary language in various ways. Bnder the !ressure of literary devices, ordinary language was intensified, condensed, twisted, telesco!ed, drawn out, turned on its head. It was language $made strange$* and because of this estrangement, the everyday world was also suddenly made unfamiliar. In the routines of everyday s!eech, our !erce!tions of and res!onses to reality become stale, blunted, or, as the +ormalists would say, $automati9ed$. Literature, by forcing us into a dramatic awareness of language, refreshes these habitual res!onses and renders ob@ects more $!erce!tible$. &y having to gra!!le with language in a more strenuous, self%conscious way than usual, the world which that language contains is vividly renewed. The !oetry of 7erard )anley .o!(ins might !rovide a !articularly gra!hic e#am!le of this. Literary discourse $estranges or alienates ordinary s!eech, but in doing so, !arado#ically, brings us into a fuller, more intimate !ossession of e#!erience. )ost of the time we breathe in air without being conscious of it: li(e language, it is the very medium in which we move. &ut if the air is suddenly thic(ened or infected we are forced to attend to our breathing with new vigilance, and the effect of this may be a heightened e#!erience of our bodily life, we read a scribbled note from a friend without !aying much attention to its narrative structure* but if a story brea(s off and begins

again, switches constantly from one narrative level to another and delays its clima# to (ee! us in sus!ense, we become freshly conscious of how it is constructed at the same time as our engagement with it may be intensified. The story, as the +ormalists would argue, uses im!eding$ or $retarding$ devices to hold our attention* and in literary language, these devices are laid bare$. It was this which moved :i(tor 'hlovs(y to remar( mischievously of Laurence 'terne$s Tristram 'handy, a novel which im!edes its own story%line so much that it hardly gets off the ground, that it was $the most ty!ical novel in world literature$ . The +ormalists, then, saw literary language as a set of deviations from a norm, a (ind of linguistic violence: literature is a s!ecial$ (ind of language, in contrast to the $ordinary$ language ve commonly use. &ut to s!ot a deviation im!lies being able to identify the norm from which it swerves. Though $ordinary language$ is a conce!t beloved of some 8#ford !hiloso!hers, the ordinary language of 8#ford !hiloso!hers has little in common with the ordinary language of 7laswegian doc(ers. The language both social grou!s use to write love letters usually differs from the way they tal( to the local vicar. The idea that there s a single $normal$ language, a common currency shared e ually by all members of society, is an illusion. 5ny actual language consists of a highly com!le# range of discourses, differentiated according to class, region, gender, status and so on, which can by no means be neatly unified into a single, homogeneous linguistic community. 8ne !erson$s norm may be another$s deviation: $ginnel$ for $alleyway$ may be !oetic in &righton but ordinary language in &arnsley. Even the most $!rosaic$ te#t of the fifteenth century may sound $!oetic$ to us today because of its archaism. If we were to stumble across an isolated scra! of writing from some long%vanished civili9ation, we could not tell whether it was $!oetry$ or not merely by ins!ecting it, since we might have no access to that society$s $ordinary$ discourses* and even if further research were to reveal that it was $deviatory$, this would still not !rove that it was !oetry as not all linguistic deviations are !oetic. 'lang, for e#am!le. We would not be able to tell @ust by loo(ing at it that it was not a !iece of $realist$ literature, without much more information about the way it actually functioned as a !iece of writing within the society in uestion. It is not that the 0ussian +ormalists did not reali9e all this. They recogni9ed that norms and deviations shifted around from one social or historical conte#t to another % that C!oetryD in this sense de!ends on where you ha!!en to be standing at the time. The fact that a !iece of language was $estranging$ did not guarantee that it was always and

everywhere so: it was estranging only against a certain normative linguistic bac(ground, and if this altered then the writing might cease to be !erce!tible as literary. If everyone used !hrases li(e $unravished bride of uietness$ in ordinary !ub conversation, this (ind of language might cease to be !oetic. +or the +ormalists, in other words, $literariness$ was a function of the differential relations between one sort of discourse and another* it was not an eternally given !ro!erty. They were not out to define $literature$, but $literariness$ %s!ecial uses of language, which could be found in $literary$ te#ts but also in many !laces outside them. 5nyone who believes that $literature$ can be defined by such s!ecial uses of language has to face the fact that there is more meta!hor in )anchester than there is in )arvell. There is no $literary$ device %metonymy, synecdoche, litotes, chiasmus and so on %which is not uite intensively used in daily discourse. 2evertheless, the +ormalists still !resumed that $ma(ing strange$ was the essence of the literary. It was @ust that they relativi9ed this use of language, saw it as a matter of contrast between one ty!e of s!eech and another. &ut what if I were to hear someone at the ne#t !ub table remar( $This is awfully s uiggly handwritingE$ Is this $literary$ or $non% literary$ language? 5s a matter of fact, it is $literary$ language because it comes from Fnut .amsun$s novel .unger. &ut how do I (now that it is literary? It doesn$t, after all, focus any !articular attention on itself as a verbal !erformance. 8ne answer to the uestion of how I (now that this is literary is that it comes from Fnit .amsun$s novel .unger. It is !art of a te#t which I read as $fictional$, which announces itself as a $novel$, which may be !ut on university literature syllabuses and so on. The conte#t tells me that it is literary* but the language itself has no inherent !ro!erties or ualities which might distinguish it from other (inds of discourse, and someone might well say this in a !ub without being admired for their literary de#terity. To thin( of literature as the +ormalists do is really to thin( of all literature as !oetry. 'ignificantly, when the +ormalists came to consider !rose writing, they often sim!ly e#tended to it the (inds of techni ue they had used with !oetry. &ut literature is usually @udged to contain much besides !oetry %to include, for e#am!le, realist or naturalistic writing which is not linguistically self%conscious or self%e#hibiting in any stri(ing way. 1eo!le sometimes call writing $fine$ !recisely because it doesn$t draw undue attention to itself: they admire its laconic !lainness or low% (eyed sobriety. 5nd what about @o(es, football chants and slogans, news!a!er headlines, advertisements, which are often verbally flamboyant but not generally classified as literature?

5nother !roblem with the $estrangement$ case is that there is no (ind of writing which cannot, given sufficient ingenuity, be read as estranging. /onsider a !rosaic, uite unambiguous statement li(e the one sometimes seen in the London underground system: $-ogs must be carried on the escalator.$ This is not !erha!s uite as unambiguous as it seems at first sight: does it mean that you must carry a dog on the escalator? are you li(ely to be banned from the escalator unless you can find some stray mongrel to clutch in your arms on the way u!? )any a!!arently straightforward notices contain such ambiguities: $0efuse to be !ut in this bas(et,$ for instance, or the &ritish road%sign $Way 8ut$ as read by a /alifornian. &ut even leaving such troubling ambiguities aside, it is surely obvious that the underground notice could be read as literature. 8ne could let oneself be arrested by the abru!t, minatory staccato of the first !onderous monosyllables* find one$s mind drifting, by the time it had reached the rich allusiveness of $carried$, to suggestive resonances of hel!ing lame dogs through life* and !erha!s even detect in the very lilt and inflection of the word $escalator$ a miming of the rolling, u!%and%down motion of the thing itself. This may well be a fruitless sort of !ursuit, but it is 28T significantly more fruitless than claiming to hear the cut and thrust of the ra!iers in some !oetic descri!tion of a duel, and at least has the advantage of suggesting that $literature$ may be at least as much a uestion of what !eo!le do to writing as of what writing does to them. &ut even if someone were to read the notice in this way, it would still be a matter of reading it as !oetry, which is only !art of what is usually included in literature. Let us therefore consider another way of $misreading$ the sign which might move us a little beyond this. Imagine a late%night drun( doubled over the escalator handrail who reads the notice with laborious attentiveness for several minutes and then mutters to himself $.ow rudeE$ What (ind of mista(e is occurring here? What the drun( is doing, in fact, is ta(ing the sign as some statement of general, even cosmic significance. &y a!!lying certain conventions of reading to its words, he !rises them loose from their immediate conte#t and generali9es them beyond their !ragmatic !ur!ose to something of wider and !robably dee!er im!ort. This would certainly seem to be one o!eration involved in what !eo!le call literature. When the !oet tells us that his love is li(e a red rose, we (now by the very fact that he !uts this statement in metre that we are not su!!osed to as( whether he actually had a lover, who for some bi9arre reason seemed to him to resemble a rose. .e is telling us something about women and love in general. Literature, then, we might say, is $non%!ragmatic$ discourse: unli(e biology te#tboo(s and notes to the mil(man it serves no immediate !ractical !ur!ose, but is

to be ta(en as referring to , general state of affairs. 'ometimes, though not always, it ma$ em!loy !eculiar language as though to ma(e this fact obvious % to signal that what is at sta(e is a way of tal(ing about a woman rather than any !articular real%life woman. This focusing on tho way of tal(ing, rather than on the reality of what is tal(ed about, is sometimes ta(en to indicate that we mean by literature a (ind of self%referential language, a language which tal(s about itself. There are, however, !roblems with this way of defining literature too. +or one thing, it would !robably have come as a sur!rise to 7eorge 8rwell to hear that his essays were to be read as though the to!ics he discussed were less im!ortant than the way he discussed them. In much that is classified as literature the truth%value and !ractical relevance of what is said is considered im!ortant to the overall effect &ut even if treating discourse $non%!ragmatically$ is !art of what is meant by literature$, then it follows from this $definition$ that literature cannot in fact be $ob@ectively$ defined. It leaves the definition of literature u! to how somebody decides to read, not to the nature of what is written. There are certain (inds of writing %!oems, !lays, novels %which are fairly obviously intended to be $non% !ragmatic$ in this sense, but this does not guarantee that they will actually be read in this way. I might well read 7ibbon$s account of the 0oman em!ire not because I am misguided enough to believe that it will be reliably informative about ancient 0ome but because I en@oy 7ibbon$s !rose style, or revel in images of human corru!tion whatever their historical source. &ut I might read 0obert &urns$s !oem because it is not clear to me, as a ,a!anese horticulturalist, whether or not the red rose flourished in eighteenth%century &ritain. This, it will be said, is not reading it $as literature$* but am I reading 8rwell$s essays as literature only if I generali9e what he says about the '!anish civil war to some cosmic utterance about human life? It is true that many of the wor(s studied as literature in academic institutions were $constructed$ to be read as literature, but it is also true that many of them were not. 5 !iece of writing may start off life as history or !hiloso!hy and then come to be ran(ed as literature* or it may start off as literature and then come to be valued for its archaeological significance. 'ome te#ts are born literary, some achieve literariness, and some have literariness thrust u!on them. &reeding in this res!ect may count for a good deal more than birth. What matters may not be where you came from but how !eo!le treat you. If they decide that you are literature then it seems that you are, irres!ective of what you thought you were.

In this sense, one can thin( of literature less as some inherent uality or set of ualities dis!layed by certain (inds of writing all the way from &eowulf to :irginia Woolf, than as a number of ways in which !eo!le relate themselves to writing. It would not be easy to isolate, from all that has been variously called $literature$, some constant set of inherent features. In fact it would be as im!ossible as trying to identify the single distinguishing feature which all games have in common. There is no $essence$ of literature whatsoever. 5ny bit of writing may be read $non%!ragmatically$, if that is what reading a te#t as literature means, @ust as any writing may be read $!oetically$. If I !ore over the railway timetable not to discover a train connection but to stimulate in myself general reflections on the s!eed and com!le#ity of modern e#istence, then I might be said to be reading it as literature. ,ohn ). Ellis has argued that the term $literature$ o!erates rather li(e the word $weed$: weeds are not !articular (inds of !lant, but @ust any (ind of !lant which for some reason or another a gardener does not want around. G 1erha!s $literature$ means something li(e the o!!osite: any (ind of writing which for some reason or another somebody values highly. 5s the !hiloso!hers might say, $literature$ and "weed$ are functional rather than ontological terms: they tell us about what we do, not about the fi#ed being of things. They tell us about the role of a te#t or a thistle in a social conte#t, its relations with and differences from its surroundings, the ways it behaves, the !ur!oses it may be !ut to and the human !ractices clustered around it. $Literature$ is in this sense a !urely formal, em!ty sort of definition. Even if we claim that it is a non%!ragmatic treatment of language, we have still not arrived at an $essence$ of literature because this is also so of other linguistic !ractices such as @o(es. In any case, it is far from clear that we can discriminate neatly between $!ractical$ and $non%!ractical$ ways of relating ourselves to language. 0eading a novel for !leasure obviously differs from reading a road sign for information, but how about reading a biology te#tboo( to im!rove your mind? Is that a $!ragmatic$ treatment of language or not? In many societies, $literature$ has served highly !ractical functions such as religious ones* distinguishing shar!ly between $!ractical$ and $non% !ractical$ may only be !ossible in a society li(e ours, where literature has ceased to have much !ractical function at all. We may be offering as a general definition a sense of the $literary$ which is in fact historically s!ecific. We have still not discovered the secret, then, of why Lamb, )acaulay and )ill are literature but not, generally s!ea(ing, &entham, )ar# and -arwin. 1erha!s the sim!le answer is that the first three are e#am!les of $fine writing$, whereas the last three are not. This answer has the disadvantage of being largely untrue, at least in my @udgement, but it

has the advantage of suggesting that by and large !eo!le term $literature$ writing which they thin( is good. 5n obvious ob@ection to this is that if it were entirely true there would be no such thing as $bad literature$ .I may consider Lamb and )acaulay overrated, but that does not necessarily mean that I sto! regarding them as literature. "ou may consider 0aymond /handler $good of his (ind$, but not e#actly literature. 8n the other hand, if )acaulay were a really bad writer %if he had no gras! at all of grammar and seemed interested in nothing but white mice % then !eo!le might well not call his wor( literature at all, even bad literature. :alue%@udgements would certainly seem to have a lot to do with what is @udged literature and what isn$t %not necessarily in the sense that writing has to be $fine$ to be literary , but that it has to be of the (ind that is @udged fine: it may be an inferior e#am!le of a generally valued mode. 2obody would bother to say that a bus tic(et was an e#am!le of inferior literature, but someone might well say that the !oetry of Ernest -owson was. The term $fine writing$, or belles lettres, is in this sense ambiguous: it denotes a sort of writing which is generally highly regarded, while not necessarily committing you to the o!inion that a !articular s!ecimen of it is $good$. With this reservation, the suggestion that $literature$ is a highly valued (ind of writing is an illuminating one. &ut it has one fairly devastating conse uence. It means that we can dro! once and for all the illusion that the category $literature$ is $ob@ective$, in the sense of being eternally given and immutable. If anything can be literature, and anything which is regarded as unalterably and un uestionably literature %'ha(es!eare, for e#am!le%%can cease to be literature. 5ny belief that the study of literature is the study of a stable, well% definable entity, as entomology is the study of insects, can be abandoned as a chimera. 'ome (inds of fiction are literature and some are not* some literature is fictional and some is not* some literature is verbally self%regarding, while some highly%wrought rhetoric is not literature. Literature, in the sense of a set of wor(s of assured and unalterable value, distinguished by certain shared inherent !ro!erties, does not e#ist. When I use the words $literary$ and literature$ from here on in this boo(, then, I !lace them under m invisible crossing%out mar(, to indicate that these terms will not really do but that we have no better ones at the moment. The reason why it follows from the definition of literature as highly valued writing that it is not a stable entity is that value%@udgements are notoriously variable. $Times change, values don$t,$ announces an advertisement for a daily news!a!er, as

though we still believed in (illing off infirm infants or !utting the mentally ill on !ublic show. ,ust as !eo!le may treat a wor( as !hiloso!hy in one century and as literature in the ne#t, or vice versa, so they may change their minds about what writing they consider valuable. They may even change their minds about the sounds they use for @udging what is valuable and what is not. This, as I have suggested, does not necessarily mean that they will refuse the title of literature to a wor( which they have come to deem inferior: they may still call it literature, meaning roughly that it belongs to the ty!e of writing which they generally value. &ut it does mean that the so%called $literary canon$, the un uestioned $great tradition$ of the $national literature$, has to be recogni9ed as a construct, fashioned by !articular !eo!le for !articular reasons at a certain time. There is no such thing as a literary wor( or tradition which is valuable in itself, regardless of what anyone might have said or come to say about it. $:alue$ is a transitive term: it means whatever is valued by certain !eo!le in s!ecific situations, according to !articular criteria and in the light of given !ur!oses. It is thus uite !ossible that, given a dee! enough transformation of our history , we may in the future !roduce a society which is unable to get anything at all out of 'ha(es!eare. .is wor(s might sim!ly seem des!erately alien, full of styles of thought and feeling which such a society found limited or irrelevant. In such a situation, 'ha(es!eare would be no more valuable than much !resent% day graffiti. 5nd though many !eo!le would consider such a social condition tragically im!overished, it seems to me dogmatic not to entertain the !ossibility that it might arise rather from a general human enrichment. Farl )ar# was troubled %by the uestion of why ancient 7ree( art retained an $eternal charm$, even though the social conditions which !roduced it had long !assed* but how do we (now that it will remain $eternally$ charming, since history has not yet ended? Let us imagine that by dint of some deft archaeological research we discovered a great deal more about what ancient 7ree( tragedy actually meant to its original audiences, recogni9ed that these concerns were utterly remote from our own, and began to read the !lays again in the light of this dee!ened (nowledge. 8ne result might be that we sto!!ed en@oying them. We might come to see that we had en@oyed then !reviously because we were unwittingly reading them in thc light of our own !reoccu!ations* once this became less !ossible the drama might cease to s!ea( at all significantly to us. The fact that we always inter!ret literary wor(s to some e#tent in the light of our own concerns %indeed that in one sense o $our own concerns$ we are inca!able of doing anything else % might be one reason why certain wor(s of literature seem to retain their value

across the centuries. It may be, of course, that we still share many !reoccu!ations with the wor( itself* but i may also be that !eo!le have not actually been valuing the $same$ wor( at all, even though they may thin( they have. $8ur .omer is not identical with the .omer of the )iddle 5ges, no $our$ 'ha(es!eare with that of his contem!oraries* it is rather that different historical !eriods have constructed a $different .omer and 'ha(es!eare for their own !ur!oses, and found in these te#ts elements to value or devalue, though, not necessarily the same ones. 5ll literary wor(s, in other words, are $rewritten$ if only unconsciously, by the societies which read them* indeed there is no reading of a wor( which is not also a $re%writing$. 2o wor(, and no current evaluation of it, can sim!ly be e#tended to new grou!s of !eo!le without being changed, !erha!s almost unrecogni9ably, in the !rocess* and this is one reason why what counts as literature is a notably unstable affair . I do not mean that it is unstable because value%@udgement are $sub@ective$ .5ccording to this view , the world is divided between solid facts $out there$ li(e 7rand /entral station, and arbitrary value% @udgements $in here$ such as li(ing bananas or feeling that the tone of a "eats !oem veers from defensive hectoring to grimly resilient resignation. +acts are !ublic and im!eachable, values are !rivate and gratuitous. There is an obvious difference between recounting a fact, such as $This cathedral was built in ;H;>,$ and registering a value% @udgement, ; as $This cathedral is a magnificent s!ecimen of baro ue architecture.$ &ut su!!ose I made the first (ind of statement while 2ing an overseas visitor around England, and found that it !u99led her considerably. Why, she might as(, do you (ee! telling me the dates of the foundation of all these buildings? Why obsession with origins? In the society I live in, she might go we (ee! no record at all of such events: we classify our buildings instead according to whether they face north%west or :h%east. What this might do would be to demonstrate !art of the unconscious system of value%@udgements which underlies my own descri!tive statements. 'uch value% @udgements are not necessarily of the same (ind as $This cathedral is a magnificent s!ecimen of baro ue architecture,$ but they are value% @udgements nonetheless, and no factual !ronouncement I ma(e can esca!e them. 'tatements of fact are after all statements, which !resumes a number of uestionable @udgements: that those statements are worth ma(ing, !erha!s more worth ma(ing than certain others, that I am the sort of !erson entitled to ma(e them and !erha!s able to guarantee their truth, that you are the (ind of !erson worth ma(ing them to, that something useful will be accom!lished by ma(ing them, and so on. 5 !ub conversation may well transmit

information, but what also bul(s large in such dialogue is a strong element of what linguists would call the $!hatic$, a concern with the act of communication itself. In chatting to you about the weather I am also signaling that I regard conversation with you as valuable, that I consider you a worthwhile !erson to tal( to, that I am not myself anti% social or about to embar( on a detailed criti ue of your !ersonal a!!earance. In this sense, there is no !ossibility of a wholly disinterested statement. 8f course stating when a cathedral was built is rec(oned to be more disinterested in our own culture than !assing an o!inion about its architecture, but one could also imagine situations in which the former statement would be more $value%laden$ than the latter. 1erha!s $baro ue$ and $magnificent$ have come to be more or less synonymous, whereas only a stubborn rum! of us cling to the belief that the date when a building was founded is significant, and my statement is ta(en as a coded way of signaling this !artisanshi!. 5ll of our descri!tive statements move within an often invisible networ( of value%categories, and indeed without such categories we would have nothing to say to each other at all. It is not @ust as though we have something called factual (nowledge which may then be distorted by !articular interests and @udgements, although this is certainly !ossible* it is also that without !articular interests we would have no (nowledge at all, because we would not see the !oint of bothering to get to (now anything. Interests are constitutive of our (nowledge, not merely !re@udices which im!eril it. The claim that (nowledge should be $value% free$ is itself a value%@udgement. It may well be that a li(ing for bananas is a merely !rivate matter, though this is in fact uestionable. 5 thorough analysis of my tastes in food would !robably reveal how dee!ly relevant they are to certain formative e#!eriences in early childhood, to my relations with my !arents and siblings and to a good many other cultural factors which are uite as social and $non% sub@ective$ as railway stations. This is even more true of that fundamental structure of beliefs and interests which I am born into as a member of a !articular society, such as the belief that I should try to (ee! in good health, that differences of se#ual role are rooted in human biology or that human beings are more im!ortant than crocodiles. We may disagree on this or that, but we can only do so because we share certain $dee!$ ways of seeing and valuing which are bound u! with our social life, and which could not be changed without transforming that life. 2obody will !enali9e me heavily if I disli(e a !articular -onne !oem, but if I argue that -onne is not literature at all then in certain circumstances I might ris( losing

my @ob. I am free to vote Labour or /onservative, but if I try to act on the belief that this choice itself merely mas(s a dee!er !re@udice %the !re@udice that the meaning of democracy is confined to !utting a cross on a ballot !a!er every few years %then in certain unusual circumstances I might end u! in !rison. The largely concealed structure of values which informs and underlies our factual statements is !art of what is meant by $ideology$. &y $ideology$ I mean, roughly, the ways in which what we say and believe connects with the !ower%structure and !ower%relations of the society we live in. It follows from such a rough definition of ideology that not all of our underlying @udgements and categories can usefully be said to be ideological. It is dee!ly ingrained in us to imagine ourselves moving forwards into the future 3 at least one other society sees itself as moving bac(wards into it4, but though this way of seeing may connect significantly with the !ower%structure of our society, it need not always and everywhere do so. I do not mean. by $ideology$ sim!ly the dee!ly entrenched, often unconscious beliefs which !eo!le hold* I mean more !articularly those modes of feeling, valuing, !erceiving and believing which have some (ind of relation to the maintenance and re!roduction of social !ower. The fact that such beliefs are by no means merely !rivate uir(s may be illustrated by a literary e#am!le. In his famous study 1ractical /riticism 3;<><4, the /ambridge critic I. 5. 0ichards sought to demonstrate @ust how whimsical and sub@ective literary value%@udgements could actually be by giving his undergraduates a set of !oems, withholding from them the titles and authors$ names, and as(ing them to evaluate them. The resulting @udgements, notoriously, were highly variable: time%honoured !oets were mar(ed down and obscure authors celebrated. To my mind, however, the most interesting as!ect of this !ro@ect, and one a!!arently uite invisible to 0ichards himself, is @ust how tight a consensus of unconscious valuations underlies these !articular differences of o!inion. 0eading 0ichards$ undergraduates$ accounts of literary wor(s one is struc( by the habits of !erce!tion and inter!retation which they s!ontaneously share %what they e#!ect literature to be, what assum!tions they bring to a !oem and what fulfillments they antici!ate they will derive from it. 2one of this is really sur!rising: for all the !artici!ants in this e#!eriment were, !resumably, young, white, u!!er% or u!!er middle% class, !rivately educated English !eo!le of the ;<>?s, and how they res!onded to a !oem de!ended on a good deal more than !urely $literary$ factors. Their critical res!onses were dee!ly entwined with their broader !re@udices and beliefs. This is not a matter of blame: there is no

critical res!onse which is not so entwined, and thus no such thing as a $!ure$ literary critical @udgement or inter!retation. If anybody is to be blamed it is I. 5. 0ichards himself, who as a young, white, u!!er% middle%class male /ambridge don was unable to ob@ectify a conte#t of interests which he himself largely shared, and was thus unable to recogni9e fully that local, $sub@ective$ differences of evaluation wor( within a !articular, socially structured way of !erceiving the world. If it will not do to see literature as an $ob@ective$, descri!tive category, neither will it do to say that literature is @ust what !eo!le whimsically choose to call literature. +or there is nothing at all whimsical about such (inds of value%@udgement: they have their roots in dee!er structures of belief which are as a!!arently unsha(eable as the Em!ire 'tate building. What we have uncovered so far, then, is not only that literature does not e#ist in the sense that insects do, and that the value%@udgements by which it is constituted are historically variable, but that these value-judgements themselves have a close relation to social ideologies. They refer in the end not sim!ly to !rivate taste, but to the assum!tions by which certain social grou!s e#ercise and maintain !ower over others. If this seems a far%fetched assertion, a matter of !rivate !re@udice, we may test it out by an account of the rise of $literature$ in England.