Celebrity Scholars?


Bob’s account of the exchange between Frye and Wayne Booth (above) is a fascinating snapshot of an encounter between two great critics; a bit like the camera catching Tom Brady and Peyton Manning chatting before a game. And then I thought of the extent to which some critics had a kind of celebrity status, at least within the academic world, in the 1980s. One reviewer referred to Imre Salusinszky’s 1987 collection of interviews with various critics as the first hard-cover theory fan magazine, which did not do justice to an excellent book, but which probably did reflect the way that many of us read it (and looked at the photos).

Which made me wonder which critics, if any, have the same wide appeal today. Is literary studies too fragmented into subdisciplines and competing approaches for anyone to be able to have this authority now, or could another Anatomy of Criticism or Rhetoric of Fiction come along, another book that everyone has to read and discuss?

The late Edward Said was one such figure: Culture and Imperialism was published by a commercial press and must have sold widely, following on the immense influence of Orientalism. Terry Eagleton’s books also have a considerable profile.

I’d be very interested to hear what others think.

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One thought on “Celebrity Scholars?

  1. Peter StirFrye Yan

    Celebrity Critic: Your post reminded me of the last popular critic who had a bestseller on the NY Times List, Harold Bloom, the disciple of Frye, more akin to Judas than Peter. (Frye did say he disliked discipes, as one will betray you anyways.)

    The Invention of the Human and The Western Canon were huge and had great implications for literature and literary critics.

    I have been reading Terry Eagleton, and he is not my cup of tea. Not only did I feel he misrepresented Frye in his Literary Theory potboiler; he also took many riffs off of Frye. Read Frye’s Polemical Introduction in the Anatomy and compare it to Eagleton’s introduction of Literary Theory. Eagleton has similar outline, if not the arguments.

    I feel he made his critical mark, like other critics, by knocking Frye, in a classic David versus Goliath. I still think Eagleton and critics like him turned out to be the real Philistines.


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