Joseph North’s Literary Criticism inspires mixed feelings. The book operates by telling the story of the rise and fall of criticism, a paradigm of literary study that begins with I. A. Richards, is expanded (though in unfortunate ways) by the New Critics and F. R. Leavis, and ultimately goes into contraction and eventually dissolution with the rise of Raymond Williams’s cultural analysis. It ends with contentious claim that literary studies has come to be dominated by a single “historicist/contextualist” paradigm, which aims exclusively at the production of knowledge about culture. It is a provocative and partial argument, as North admits, but one that usefully calls attention to the automatic and habitual ways that our discipline has connected politics, aesthetics, and reading. North’s insistence that we no longer let the biases of our received disciplinary history continue to exert undue pressure on the...

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