A Dodgy Business. "The Autonomy of Literature", by Richard Lansdown. [review]
At one point in "The Autonomy of Literature", Richard Lansdown remarks that he hopes his does not belong to the ‘poisonous’ genre of anti-theory books. He doesn’t justify this striking epithet, but the remark at least indicates where his book’s loyalties are pitched. This is not, despite appearances, an anti-literary theory book but a work of literary theory that seriously engages with some current intellectual approaches to literature, many of them emanating from other disciplines in the Humanities. In fact, the book’s subject is the very nature of what we call ‘literature’. Its object is to bring home to the reader just how elusive and unique it is, how impossible to capture in the terminological and ideological net thrown over it by philosophers, psychologists and historians. To this end, his discussion of theory is constantly supplemented by discussions of particular literary texts, some brief, some considerably extended. Lansdown’s argument, then, is that ‘literature’ is a discrete phenomenon that cannot be subsumed or treated as if it were philosophy or history, and that a good deal of contemporary discussion does just that: collapses the category of literature into something else — into sociology or rhetoric or, in the case of Freud, dream-work.