Beyond words

August 5, 2005

Gary Day writes that we need "a language revolution ... that revives the particularity of personhood", that "it is hard to harm anyone if you have seen them as a real person, rather than as a representative of some creed or ideology" and that "we must carry on the Enlightenment project" (Opinion, July 29).

Is this the same "particularity" ridiculed in English studies for 30 years? Is this "real person" the same one critical theory dismissed as merely the sinister ideological construct of "bourgeois liberal humanism"?

Hasn't theory long since disabused us of the notion that we are anything other than precise signifiers "of some creed or ideology"? And would this be the same Enlightenment that theory told us led in a straight line of cold reason to the Final Solution?

Apparently, English departments were once concerned with "particularity" and "personhood". They had a bunch... sorry, canon... of books... sorry, texts... believed to capture and express just this particularity.

Like that one about terrorism by some Wasp called Conrad - The Secret Agent . "Pest in the street full of men" and all that. Terrible classic realist stuff, of course.

We're beyond that now. English studies has made reducing people to abstractions - and wearing nihilism like a lapel badge - a career. You get to more conferences that way.

Rikky Rooksby, Oxford

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