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KK Ruthven

An ancient grammarian who had pondered Horace’s remarks on whether a good poem is the product of natural aptitude (ingenium) or acquired skills (studium) opted for ingenium and produced what was to become a much-quoted aphorism: poeta nascitur non fit, ‘a poet is born, not made’. His privileging of ‘nature’ over ‘art’ is favoured by those anxious to preserve the mystery of poetry by deriving it from an inscrutable faculty called ‘genius’. Others, eager to unscrew the inscrutable, favour the rival and demystificatory claim that poets are made, not born, which enables human interventions to overcome biological determinism.

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Living with Stress and Anxiety is the title of one of those self-help guides put out by Manchester University Press in its ‘Living With …’ series; Living with Breast Cancer and Mastectomy is another. Living with Literary Theory is not a scheduled volume, I imagine, although some people who work in the lit. crit. business seem to regard literary theory as a prime source of anxiety for which the only remedy is theorectomy. In the decade since Terence Hawkes first taught us how to live with Structuralism and Semiotics (1977), Methuen has succeeded admirably through its expository ‘New Accents’ series (edited by Hawkes) in making it easier for everybody to cope with such anxiety-provoking processes as Lacanian psychoanalysis or Derridean deconstruction; too easy, in the opinion of those who them-selves feel uneasy at the politics of marketing criticism’s nouvelle cuisine as fast-food takeaways, with Methuen playing the role of the big M.

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