Take Back the Past: Myths of the Twentieth Century

By George Watson

A provocative new study of the failure of 20th-century literary theory to develop a consistent foundation for knowledge and critical analysis.

ISBN: 9780718830670


“Critical theorists in our time sought foundations of knowledge because they knew there were none to be found, and critical scepticism became a convenient way of burying evidence and saving face. By now, however, no-one is interested, the audience has gone home, and the case for studying literature needs to begin again. It cannot start too soon.”

In Take Back the Past, George Watson considers the reasons for the apparent failure of the previous century’s critics to find the theoretical foundations of critical judgement. He asks why is it “more fashionable to look knowing than to know”, and cites political and historical reasons for this lapse in knowledge and critical thinking.

In this new study, a worthy addition to his work on the subject, Watson contemplates the collapse of socialism in the late 20th Century and how it lead to the denial of knowledge and the general degeneration of literary thought. “My object here,” he tells the reader, “is to find a way back to a sense of a unity of knowledge and the objectivity of judgement: to recover a radical purpose of literature.”

Additional information

Dimensions 234 × 156 mm
Pages 192

Trade Information LPOD

About the Author

George Watson was Fellow in English at St John’s College, Cambridge, and had been Sandars Reader in Bibliography. He published a number of books on literature and political thought, including The Literary Critics, and was general editor of the New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature. His other publications with the Lutterworth Press include: Lost Literature of Socialism (1st Edition 1998, 2nd Edition 2010); Never Ones for Theory? England and the War of Ideas (2001); The English Ideology: Studies on the Language of Victorian Politics (2004); The Story of the Novel (2008); and Heresies and Heretics: Memories of the Twentieth Century (2013). He died in 2013.



I. The Death of Meaning
1. Introduction
2. Who’s Afraid of Literature?
3. The Second Surrender
4. The Avant-Garde

II. The Retreat from Knowledge
5. Britain is an Island
6. The Ignorance of the Doctors
7. How to be an Angel
8. Socrates’ Mistake
9. Play it, Sam
10. Don’t give us India

III. Millennium End
11. The Decay of Idleness
12. The Battle of the Generations
13. In Praise of Elites
14. The Silence of the Servants
15. Where was the IRA?
16. The Tedium of Adolf Hitler
17. The Cycle of Terror

IV. Humanism at Bay
18. The Triumph of T.S. Eliot
19. Is Science Different?
20. What Right to Know?
21. The Bliss of Solitude

V. Demythologizing the Age
22. Take Back the Past