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Literary Intellectuals

East and West


Abdulla M. Al-Dabbagh

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.
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Chapter 3: E.P. Thompson and Perry Anderson: A Debate


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The beginning of what may be called the cult of Raymond Williams can be traced back to the two-part review of The Long Revolution by E.P. Thompson in New Left Review. Written in 1961, the article is the initiation of a process that culminated two decades later in the series of interviews with Williams—in the manner one usually sees given by “eminent” European thinkers, like a Sartre or a Lukacs—produced in a big volume under the title of Politics and Letters by the NLR’s own publishing house.

Thompson has no reservations about Williams and his work. “So far we can speak of a New Left,” he declares, “he is our best man.” His work is “very important indeed,” we are told, and it can be ignored by critics, educational theorists, sociologists and political theorists only at their peril. “Even a brief passage of his writing,” Thompson gets carried away, “[has] a sense of stubborn, unfashionable integrity, a combination of distinction and force.”

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