William Empson: The Critical Achievement

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William Empson (1906-84) was one of the twentieth century's most distinctive critical voices, and left (perhaps unwittingly) a profound mark upon Anglo-American literary culture. This book is the first full study of Empson's literary criticism in its various aspects, taking account of recent developments in critical theory and of Empson's complex - at times deeply antagonistic - attitude towards those developments. In their diversity of viewpoint and critical approach the essays reflect this sturdy resistance to the fashionable trends of 'Eng. Lit.' opinion. Topics include Empson's speculative treatment of language and the sublime in his Seven types of ambiguity (1930); his brilliant redefinition of the pastoral genre; the logico-semantic theory of multiple meaning developed in The structure of complex words (1951); his critique of 'neo-Christian' values and assumptions in Milton's God (1961) and the essays of his last two decades; and the relation between Empson's and Derrida's approaches to the issue of textual 'undecidability'. There are also chapters on his highly individual methods of teaching and postgraduate supervision, as well as his prominent (if unwilling) role in the shaping of English as an academic discourse. The nine essays by experts on twentieth-century criticism and theory follow on from Christopher Norris's extended introductory piece which charts the ground and offers a major revaluation of Empson's place in the theoretical tradition. Together, the components of the book present Empson as by far the most intelligent, inventive, humane, and sheerly readable of critics in the modern 'analytical' school.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521353861
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 3/18/1993
  • Pages: 329
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Introduction: Empson as literary theorist: from Ambiguity to Complex Words and beyond 1
2 Empsonian honesty and the beginnings of individualism 121
3 Empson, Leavis, and the challenge of Milton 143
4 Empson's Satan: an ambiguous character of the seventh type 156
5 Compacted doctrines: Empson and the meanings of words 170
6 Figural narrative and plot construction: Empson on pastoral 196
7 More lurid figures: de Man reading Empson 213
8 Fool and pharmakon 243
9 William Empson's cosmicomics 269
10 Empson as teacher: the Sheffield yers 294
References 308
Index 316
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