Steven Cassedy takes aim at two of the most enduring myths of modern criticism: that it is secular, and that it is new and autonomous. He argues that though modern criticism is often forbiddingly scientific and technical, the modern critic remains something of a mystic. Every school of modern criticism—from structuralism to postmodern criticism—rests on a faith in an "Eden," an irreducible essence, a myth, like the common myth that there is an intrinsic distinction between "poetic" language and "ordinary" language. The modern critic attempts to abandon all mystical faith; this is the "flight from Eden." But it is always in vain.
It is traditionally assumed that modern literary criticism and theory came from France, and relatively recently. In fact, according to Cassedy, the entire modern critical consciousness was already formed by the early twentieth century in the minds of writers who were primarily neither professional critics nor philosophers, but poets. Some were French (Mallarmé, and Valéry); others were not (Rilke, Bely, and the Russian avant-garde poet Velimir Khlebnikov). In them we find the same Edenic faith, the same effort to abandon it, and the same failure of that effort.
This title is part of UC Press's Voices Revived program, which commemorates University of California Press’s mission to seek out and cultivate the brightest minds and give them voice, reach, and impact. Drawing on a backlist dating to 1893, Voices Revived makes high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarship accessible once again using print-on-demand technology. This title was originally published in 1990.