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I miss English

June 7, 2008

All literary works are anonymous, but some are more anonymous than others. It is in the nature of a piece of writing that it is able to stand free of its begetter, and can dispense with his or her physical presence. In this sense, writing is more like an adolescent than a toddler. I might pass you a note at a meeting, but a note is only a note if it can function in my absence. Writing, unlike speech, is meaning that has come adrift from its source. Some bits of writing – theatre tickets or notes to the milkman, for example – are more closely tied to their original contexts than Paradise Lost or War and Peace. Fiction (since it is imaginary) has no real-life original context at all, and hermeneutically speaking can therefore circulate a lot more freely than a shopping list or a bus ticket.

Read on: Terry Eagleton in the LRB

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