The Rebirth of American Literary Theory and Criticism

The Rebirth of American Literary Theory and Criticism

Scholars Discuss Intellectual Origins and Turning Points

By H. Aram Veeser

Anthem symploke Studies in Theory

A group of homogeneous interviews with contemporary literary and cultural theorists All the interviews are completed. The same ten questions were addressed to all the interviewees. The result is a homogeneous volume unlike most other interview projects. 

PDF, 258 Pages


November 2020

£25.00, $40.00

EPUB, 258 Pages


November 2020

£25.00, $40.00

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About This Book

 This book is the first collection of unified interviews with the great figures of the golden age of American celebrity literary and cultural critics. While many of these celebrity critics have been interviewed elsewhere, this collection is different. The 18 critics interviewed here are all asked the same questions, whereas usually interviews are one-offs, each one unique and incomparable. By contrast this collection shows that theorists, when commenting on the same issues, actually range widely and express a remarkable diversity of opinions.

The book also presents a vivid portrayal of the ways in which literary theory affected the lives of these individuals. All 18 people interviewed lived what might be called, without exaggeration, a life of theory. Their work and lives were jostled by seismic dislocations. New criticism was overwhelmed by postmodernism, deconstruction reigned and then succumbed to new historicism and the politics and criticism of identity. Race and gender burgeoned as fundamental topics. Critics and scholars experiences these ruptures differently and reacted in different ways. This book of interviews offers 18 exemplary instances. Instead of the unity they are often assumed to have, these figures reveal how incredibly diverse they actually were.

Finally, the collection offers a coherent summation of this richly turbulent and intellectually powerful era. The introduction to the volume and the brilliant afterword by Professor Heather Love offer cogent assessment of this remarkably varied era of American intellectual life. They make sense of a disruptive and puzzling past. The book includes 23 illustrations highlighting some of the key points and themes.


Harold Aram Veeser’s The Rebirth of American Literary Theory and Criticism provides crucial insight into the work that theory has done and continues to do in literary and cultural studies. The astute interviews with leading theorists demonstrate how theory transformed intellectual life for the better and how it continues to be perhaps the most vital force at work in contemporary humanist discourse. In our moment in which both theory and humanistic study are under attack from neoliberalism, renewed calls for the abandonment of theory, and new forms of anti-professional populism, Veeser’s volume demonstrates how important theory remains to the work we do as intellectuals and cultural critics. A necessary—not to mention pleasurable—read. — Christopher Breu, Professor, Department of English, Illinois State University

The interviews at the heart of this book amount to a group portrait of an exceptional generation of literary theorists who collectively challenged and enriched how we read and teach. In the tradition of his groundbreaking work on the New Historicism and on Edward Said, H. Aram Veeser, a deft interviewer, takes us behind the scenes, illuminating the personalities and myriad forces that led these gifted critics to challenge the status quo. An invaluable contribution to scholarship as well as a fascinating series of brief intellectual biographies, it’s also a book that captures a vital moment in our culture. —James Shapiro, author of Shakespeare in a Divided America

Critical histories usually tell us the main texts, but this volume recounts the experience of doing theory for “first adopters” in the 1970s up to Gen X critics reaching out to a wider public now. In a unified set of interviews, Veeser does a great service in building an oral history of the fate of theory and criticism from deconstruction to surface reading. —Jeffrey J. Williams, Co-editor, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism

H. Aram Veeser has long been telling a compelling and essential story of academic charisma and the drama of ideas. In this landmark work, he goes further, talking to the theorists and letting us listen. It is a familiar question to ask, what is, or was, theory? This book goes further and asks, who created it, and where will they take it? No history of literary criticism will be complete without it. —David Yaffe, Syracuse University

Author Information

Aram Veeser edited 4 books on literary theory and theorists and wrote his own book, Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism (2010). In addition, he has worked as a journalist and addressed, in print, a nonacademic readership.


Anthem symploke Studies in Theory

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments; Introduction; The First Wave; 1. Stanley Eugene Fish; 2. Richard Allen Macksey; 3. Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein-Graff; 4. Vincent Barry Leitch; The Second Wave; 5. Walter Benn Michaels; 6. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak; 7. Jane Gallop; 8. Homi K. Bhabha; 9. William John Thomas Mitchell; 10. William Germano; 11. Steven Mailloux; The Third Wave; 12. Wai Chee Dimock; 13. Rita Felski; 14. Kenneth W. Warren; 15. Cary Wolfe; 16. Martin Puchner; 17. Michael Bérubé; 18. Jeffrey Nealon; Afterword by Heather Love; Index.


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