picion” in society at large. Even so, atnthis point the thesis of Kernan’s booknmay seem much less dramatic than itsntitle.nThe literature that Kernan perceivesnto be vanishing both from the socialnworld and from human consciousnessnwas, in the author’s words, “a historicnevent” that seems to pass in companynwith many other institutions belongingnto what the historian John Lukacs hasndescribed as the “bourgeois era.” Thisn”historic event,” or “social reality,” wasnan objective complex of print technologynand publishing houses, academicndepartments and a large reading public,nnationalist loyalties and democratic dogmas,ncopyright law and artistic license,nand the myth of the literary genius —naccepted unquestioningly by the partisansnof genius as well as by the geniusnhimself The hero, although he was innmany respects a creature of bourgeoisncapitalist-industrialism, was from thenoutset at pains to affirm his alienationnfrom it. For him the modern world ofncommerce, finance, and Blake’s “darknSatanic mills” was the enemy of mankind’snintuitive life, including the afflatusnthat put certain prize specimens ofnmankind in direct touch with that life.nColeridge stated the Romantic artist’snidea of himself as well or better thannanyone when he identified the creativenimagination as “the prime agent of allnhuman perception, and … a repetitionnin the finite mind of the eternal actnof creation in the infinite I AM.”nThe claim, though not necessarilynexcessive of itself, was certainly pregnantnwith the potential for what thenancient Greeks called hubris but whichnwas, in the Christian context, somethingneven worse. In the course ofntime, as the Romantic era passed andnwas succeeded by the Modernist onen(Edmund Wilson, in Axel’s Castle,ndemonstrated how directly the secondndeveloped from the first), the artistnbegan to regard himself as no longer anprivileged being with intuitive insightninto “the infinite I AM,” but rather asna necessary surrogate for Him Who nonlonger existed. In this way the artistnconsecrated himself as priest, not onlynof art but of the artist as well. As thisnhappened, he acquired a church, annecclesiastical structure, preferments,nand an ecclesiastical property rivalingnthose of the Vicar of Christ in Rome.nIn other words: independent geniusngrew into a part of the social andnintellectual establishment of Westernnsociety, thus establishing for itself thatn”social reality” in which its work byndefinition found a place, filling satisfactorilynthe expectations it satisfactorilyncreated. After this — and all of a sudden—nthe deluge.n ‘hey stood in line,” KernannJ. writes of the radical literaryntheorists of the last thirty years, “foughtnfor a place at the front of it, to demonstratenthe meanness and emptiness ofnbooks and poems that had long beennread and taught as the highest achievementsnof the human spirit. Humanismnbecame a term of contempt, and thenwork of literature an illusion.” Here,nsurely, we can discern the extent tonwhich the Word and the word arenineluctably connected in the history ofnWestern thought, the fate of each reflectivenof the other until the end ofntime. Although it is enough to mentionnthe name T.S. Eliot to refute the ideanthat literary Modernism was exclusivelynagnostic or atheistic, still by the 1960’snWestern literature had been drained ofnits religious content to the point wherenits transcendental qualities offered nontarget at all for the new literary nihilists.nAll that remained of the Christian viewnof man was humanism, and so it wasnhumanism that the Barthes, the Foucaults,nthe Terry Eagletons, and thenSusan Sontags set up for ridicule. Accordingnto the deconstructionist theory,n”literature” is condemnable not only fornits having been chiefly produced bynwhite Western bourgeois males seekingnto exert their misbegotten power againstnthe poor and the oppressed, but fornclaiming substance when it in fact hasnnone (odd that so potent a class weaponnshould have been actually insubstantial!),nbeing instead the representationnof a series of receding illusions, realitiesninfinitely deferred; while the “author”nhimself, so Roland Barthes has asserted,nis no more than a historical idea, “formulatednby and appropriate to the socialnbeliefs of democratic, capitalist [andnChristian?!] society with its emphasis onnthe individual.”nOf course, like so much that passesnfor theory today, deconstruction is notncriticism at all, but simply bad philosophy.nIt is also essentially dishonest philosophy,ninsofar as it secretly pays tributento what it seeks to destroy by jealouslynnnhoping to take over the gutted traditionalistnstructure and refurbish the shellnaccording to its own taste. With insightnKernan observes, “It may well be morenrealistic to see all these radical types ofncriticism that have discredited the literaryntexts as the last apocalyptic phase ofnan old literary order collapsing in onnitself in a time of radical change, rathernthan as the bringers of a new more freenand open literature.” By extension, Inthink, it is equally realistic to see contemporarynradical criticism as a reaction,nin part justifiable, against the exaltednmoral, theoretical, and existential claimsnof the Modernist literature that camenbefore it. If that is so, then the contemporarynoccasion identified by Kernan asn”the death of literature” amounts to thencanceling out, the one by the other, ofntwo literary developments, the one immediatelynrecent, the other relatively so.nWhat, in that case, does this situationnimply for the future — not of Kernan’sn”literature” but of literature itself in itsnbroader and much more deeply historicalnreality?nKernan believes that the damagendone to “literature” by deconstructionistncriticism is “irreversible,” somethingnthat I for one doubt very much. Deconstructionnis a part of that strain ofnnihilism that, having entered Westernncivilization by its philosophical tracheanin the mid-19th century, has passednthrough its political abdomen and isnpresently making its way through- itsncultural anus. Deconstruction is morenthan a literary and a philosophical deadnend: far worse from the standpoint of itsnpractitioners, it is a professional deadnend as well. How many times can younget contracted — and paid — for simplynchanting nada, nada, nada? One time,nsurely, says it all: not even a Frenchndoctor or an American professor cannelaborate forever on the idea of nothingness.nYet turning from deconstructionnto all the other isms that currentlynpiranhize the flailing bulk of literature,nwe must certainly concede that thenpoliticization of every nook and crannynof contemporary life — to say nothingnof its major institutions — has, for thenforeseeable future at any rate, made anliterary reading of literature impossible.nReaders, in other words, can no longernread books as books were written to benread. Added to that fact is the probabilitynthat Western civilization has passednbeyond what George Steiner has callednJANUARY 1991/31n