The Poverty of Interpretation
Eliot to Derrida is a sardonic portrait of the cult of the specialist interpreter, from I. A. Richards and the Cambridge School to Jacques Derrida and his disciples. This lucid, iconoclastic study shows how, and why, so much of the academic response to a rich variety of literary experiment has been straitjacketed by the vast industries which have grown up around 'modernism' and 'postmodernism'. Tracing the reception of T. S. Eliot's poems - notably The Waste Land - from the earliest reviews to the post-war era of mass-produced interpretations, it shows how the insights of Eliot's first readers were lost in a fog of reverent explication. Just as 'Mr. Eliot' was co-opted by Richards, Leavis and the New Critics to serve as their patron saint, so Derrida - perhaps the last person Eliot would have chosen as his successor - became the principal guru of the new theoretical dispensation. And just as the quest for the One True Meaning collapsed under the weight of its inherent contradictions, so the quest for the One True Theory was destined to end in factional brawling between rival personality cults. For anyone disenchanted with the extravagant claims - and leaden prose - of literary theorists, this will be an exhilarating book.