Register for "Complex Words: History in English Literary Criticism"

Date: Thursday, December 6, 2012
Time: 5:00 p.m.

Stefan Collini, University of Cambridge

Stefan Collini, University of Cambridge

Stefan Collini is professor of English literature and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge. His research interests include the relation between literature and intellectual history from the late 19th century to the present, including the "question of intellectuals," the relation between academic critics and "men of letters," and the role of cultural criticism, as well as the work of figures such as T.S. Eliot, F.R. Leavis, William Empson, George Orwell, Raymond Williams, and Richard Hoggart. His books include Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain 18501930 (1991); English Pasts: Essays in History and Culture (1999); Absent Minds: Intellectuals in Britain (2006); Common Reading: Critics, Historians, Publics (2009); and What are Universities For? (2012). He is also a regular contributor to mainstream publications such as The Times Literary Supplement, The Nation, The Guardian, and the London Review of Books. This year, as the Birkelund Fellow at the National Humanities Center, he is working on The Nostalgic Imagination: Literary Criticism in English Culture.

In his talk, Professor Collini will explore some of the ways in which the "close reading" style of literary criticism dominant in Britain and the United States in the middle decades of the 20th century was presumed to be indifferent or even hostile to history. Against this view, Collini will argue for the pervasively historical character of that form of criticism that seemed to concentrate most closely on "the words on the page," and he will use William Empson's neglected book The Structure of Complex Words to show how a focus on the meanings compacted into single words could also be the means to writing "the history of the ethical life" of earlier centuries.

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