Literary Criticism

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Talking Walking

Essays in Cultural Criticism

Rachel Bowlby has written extensively on the history of shopping, as on the vicissitudes and varieties literary and cultural criticism over the past few decades. Among her books are Just Looking, Shopping with Freud, Carried Away, A Child of One’s Own and Everyday Stories. For ten years she was Lord Northcliffe Professor of English at University College London, where she is now Professor of Comparative Literature.

“Bowlby’s work brilliantly insists on the relevance of cultural critique to our own everyday lives.” Josephine McDonagh, Professor of 19th-century Literature, King’s College London

“This is a wonderfully readable, eloquent, wise, witty, and absorbing book.” J. Hillis Miller, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature and English, University of California, Irvine

When something called theory first broke onto the seemingly stagnant scene of literary studies, it offered bright new ways and fields for critical reading: new methods and subjects, and also new words to speak them. The syllabus and the styles would never be the same, and reading was proudly claimed as a mode of social critique.

The short pieces brought together in Talking Walking engage with all sorts of arguments then, now and earlier about the uses and history of critical reading—of literature, and also of other cultural forms. There is much on the changing styles of literary-critical writing, and on the place of particular writers—Virginia Woolf or Jacques Derrida—in contemporary critical culture. There are pieces on clichés, on footnotes, on the language of the university job interview, on the use of ‘domesticate’ as a catch-all negative term. There are also essays on cultural questions informed by critical theory. For instance: why has the topic of walking been such a fruitful thinking theme in literature and philosophy? How does the history of shopping and marketing theory intersect with those of literature and subjectivity? How, in the light of reproductive technologies and new social forms, has becoming a parent turned into a culturally prominent kind of story?

These are some of the questions that arise in the interview and essays that make up Rachel Bowlby’s book, which derives from several decades of working and writing and talking and walking within the changing contemporary landscape of literary and critical studies. Old and new arrivals into this world will find pleasures of reading and matter for thinking on every page.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-911-1
Paperback Price: £24.95 / $34.95
Release Date: February 2018
Page Extent / Format: 280 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Modern Spaces
1 Talking Walking
2 Half Art: Baudelaire’s The Painter of Modern Life
3 Readable City
4 Motoring through History: Woolf’s ‘Evening over Sussex’
5 Shopping for Christmas
6  Please Enter Your Pin

Family Mutations
7 After Œdipus: Changing Family Stories
8  The Third Parent
9  Woolf and Childhood Abuse
10 Kinship under All: Judith Butler on Antigone
11 James’s Maisie in Manhattan

Critical Languages
12 Domestication
13 The Joy of Footnotes
14 Clichés in the Psychology of Advertising
15 Who’s Framing Virginia Woolf?
16 Woolf’s Working Window
17 Woolf in Scholarly Form
18 Ginny Whizz
19 The Pinker Thinker
20 Cultural Studies and the Literary
21 Derrida’s ‘Once and for All’
22 Derrida One Day
23 Yale Theory
24 The Future of Literary Thinking
25 Passionate about Literature!

26 Interview with David Jonathan Bayot and Jeremy De Chavez


This volume collects previously published essays by the author on various topics in the area of cultural criticism. Sections address representations of movement and modernity, Charles Baudelaire’s The Painter of Modern Life, city-reading, Virginia Woolf’s “Evening over Sussex: Reflections in a Motor Car,” Christmas shopping, and the positioning of customers and cashiers in supermarkets; changing conditions of parenthood, including in the context of Henry James’ What Maisie Knew and Woolf’s childhood sexual abuse; and the languages of criticism, including the changing styles of critical writing and the place of writers like Woolf and Jacques Derrida in contemporary critical culture, as well as clichés, footnotes, the language of the university job interview, and the use of “domestication” as a catch-all negative term. The book ends with an interview between the author and David Jonathan Y. Bayot and Jeremy De Chavez.

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