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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 4: A Note on Christopher Caudwell


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Christopher Caudwell is still the most advanced and the most revolutionary literary and cultural critic in Britain. In bourgeois and pseudo-left circles there has been a conspiracy of silence regarding his works, and although the enmity has taken a variety of forms and indirect strategies from outright dismissal to misrepresentation to qualified praise for the wrong reasons, the result aimed at has been one and that is to dislodge Caudwell and to prevent his works from exerting their beneficial influence on literary studies.

Caudwell’s works that deal with literature and culture are Illusion and Reality (1938), Studies in a Dying Culture (1938), Further Studies in a Dying Culture (1949) and Romance and Realism (1970). Together, these works contain the beginnings of a Marxist analysis of the old bourgeois literature in England as well as some of the major modern figures. Studies in a Dying Culture was the first fully-developed Marxist critique of such modern bourgeois writers as H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw and D.H. Lawrence. It set up the correct standpoint from which one should confront modern English writers and the modernist movement in literature generally. With the exception of Mirsky’s The Intelligentsia of Great Britain (1935), which applies the same kind of critique ← 59 | 60 → on a wider scale, there is nothing comparable in English literary criticism. The critique of English bourgeois literature and culture must still begin where Caudwell left off.

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