Literary Intellectuals

East and West

by Abdulla M. Al-Dabbagh (Author)
©2013 Monographs VIII, 155 Pages


The modernist movement, in literature as well as in criticism, provides a very instructive case of iconoclastic canon-change and subsequent canon-formation, and modern British literary criticism has been remarkably canon-forming in its basic tendency. This is particularly true of the line in British criticism that has revealed strong cultural preoccupations primarily centered on the works of T. S. Eliot and F. R. Leavis. George Orwell is a figure in the history of British cultural criticism who links the pre-war and the post-war generations of modernist writers and critics. Raymond Williams is the direct continuator of the line in English literary and cultural criticism formed by Eliot, Lawrence, and Leavis. The first seven of the essays collected in this book deal with Western intellectuals – in fact, with this largely British tradition of cultural criticism. They continue the argument, centered on these main figures, as it has subsequently developed in the works of Christopher Caudwell, E. P. Thompson, Perry Anderson, and John McGrath, among others, and touch upon more contemporary literary and cultural issues. Some of these issues, such as the spread of Islamophobia among a number of contemporary British intellectuals, are also discussed in another chapter in the book, and the division of what may be called the international intelligentsia into radicals, pundits, renegades, and imposters, in another chapter. The last three essays deal with major Arab intellectuals and Arab literary and cultural concerns. They focus mainly on the relationships of these key figures with political power, cultural identity, and exile.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1: Three Figures: T.S. Eliot, F.R. Leavis, George Orwell
  • Chapter 2: Raymond Williams: The End of the Line
  • Chapter 3: E.P. Thompson and Perry Anderson: A Debate
  • Chapter 4: A Note on Christopher Caudwell
  • Chapter 5: John McGrath and the Alternative Theatre Movement
  • Chapter 6: Islamophobia and the Intellectuals
  • Chapter 7: Radicals, Renegades, Pundits and Imposters: Reflections on the International Intelligentsia
  • Chapter 8: Power and the Radical Arab Intellectual: Three Case Studies
  • Chapter 9: Mediterraneanism in Modern Arab Cultural Thought
  • Chapter 10: Poetics of Exile and Identity: The Case of Modern Iraqi Poetry
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Series index


The first seven of the essays collected in this book deal with Western intellectuals; in fact, with a largely British tradition of cultural criticism. The last three essays deal with Arab intellectuals and Arab literary and cultural concerns.

Written over the period of some thirty years, one of these essays was published in 1987 and four were published in the first decade of this century in academic journals. The rest, again written in different periods, have not been published before. Six of these papers were delivered at international conferences.

I would like to thank the editors of Neohelicon for the permission to reprint “The Literary and Cultural Criticism of Raymond Williams” (read at the Colloquium of the International Comparative Literature Association, “Literature and Values”, held at the University of Sussex, UK, August 1985), the Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Arabic/English Studies for his permission to reprint “Poetics of Exile and Identity: The Case of Modern Iraqi Poetry” (read at the Sixth British Council Symposium on English Studies in Europe, held in Delphi, Greece, 7–13 September, 2003), “Power and the Radical Arab Intellectual” (read at the Eighth International Symposium on Comparative Literature, “Power and the Role of the Intellectual”, held at the English Department, Cairo University, Egypt, 22–24 November, 2005), and ← VII | VIII → “Islamophobia and the Intellectuals” (read at the “Fear of the Other” Colloquium organized by the Sorbonne/Abu Dhabi University in Abu Dhabi and Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates, 17–19 March 2009)), and the editors of the Journal of Mediterranean Studies for their permission to reprint “Mediterraneanism in Modern Arab Cultural Thought” (read at the Sixth International Mediterranean Studies Association Conference, “The Mediterranean and Central Europe”, held at the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary, 28–31 May, 2003). “Radical, Renegades, Pundits and Imposters” was delivered at the 2011 European Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies conference, “Under Construction: Gateways and Walls”, held at Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey, 26–30 April, 2011.

Once again, I dedicate this book to my wife and children, without whose support these essays would never be written.

I would also like to record my thanks, once again, to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in the United Arab Emirates University for it generous support, and to Ms Jackie Pavlovic, production supervisor for Peter Lang for her efforts, toward the publication of these essays. ← VIII | 1 →

· 1 ·


T.S. Eliot and Culture

One clear example of Eliot’s cultural elitism is his views on education. Aside from his opposition to secular education in general and his open advocacy of a strictly religious education1—obviously a form of elitism—Eliot has also argued against the very principle of democratic education. Thus, in his Notes towards the Definition of Culture, he says:

The prospect of a society ruled and directed only by those who have passed certain examinations or satisfied tests devised by psychologists is not reassuring … Furthermore, the ideal of a uniform system such that no one capable of receiving higher education could fail to get it, leads imperceptibly to the education of too many people, and consequently to the lowering of standards to whatever this swollen number of candidates is able to reach.2

In addition, Eliot passionately defended that epitome of elitist education, the public school system, as well as the aristocratic, and by that time rather anachronistic, character of Oxford and Cambridge universities.3

Another manifestation of Eliot’s elitism is his antagonism to minority groups and minority cultures. In this, he is clearly a cultural segregationist in ← 1 | 2 → exactly the sense used to describe the policies of the southern states of the US or the apartheid system in South Africa.4

Similarly, there are rudiments of a wider historical “theory” in Eliot’s writings, as exemplified by his views on such events as the French Revolution5 or the American Civil War6. Very simply the Eliotic interpretation of history amounts to the rejection of all “egalitarian” moments in modern European history from the Reformation down to the modern rise of liberalism and “mass democracy”. All this for Eliot is the history of decline and disaster. It is no doubt an excessively pessimistic example of the organic myth of an imagined aristocratic community tied together by the bonds of race, religion and soil that has had to suffer the onslaught of successive egalitarian and democratic movements. But for Eliot there clearly was no hope, except through such ‘revitalizing’ movements as the fascist Action Francaise 7 for which he often expressed his admiration.

Furthermore, Eliot was not only a religious bigot and a racist; he was also very much a sexist. In all his writings, there is the constant image of woman as a mere sexual object. Either that, or she is regarded as just a mechanism for breeding children.8 In fact, this is the one point, i.e. Eliot’s sexism, on which even the admirers of Eliot, such people as the critic F.R. Leavis, who generally sympathized with his views, tend to agree.

Eliot’s understanding of the history of English literature betrays the same elitism and anti-democratic bias. There can, in fact, be no justification for his vehement rejection of such classic writers of English as Milton, Burns, Shelley, Dickens and Shaw except their social and political sympathies—republicanism, democracy, liberalism, and socialism—which Eliot so intensely hated. Such judgments, based upon sheer prejudice, are invariably expressed in cryptic, sophomoric language. They are, as a rule, unsubstantiated and not based on any rational argument. Moreover, they often conceal, particularly in the case of the poets, the antipathy towards the writers’ beliefs by a dismissal on artistic grounds.


VIII, 155
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2013 (April)
modernist movement cultural criticism Islamophobia political power exile orientalism post-colonial occident orient
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. VIII, 155 pp.

Biographical notes

Abdulla M. Al-Dabbagh (Author)

Abdulla Al-Dabbagh is Professor of English Literature at the United Arab Emirates University. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University, an M. Litt. from Cambridge University, and a PhD from Essex University. He has taught English, American, and world literatures, literary criticism, and translation at universities in Iraq, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. He is the author of Literary Orientalism, Postcolonialism, and Universalism (Lang 2010), Shakespeare, the Orient, and the Critics (Lang 2010), D. H. Lawrence: A Study of Literary Fascism (Lang 2011), and Socialist Literature: Theory and Practice (Lang 2012).


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166 pages