The Critical Wager

Essays on Criticism
and the Architecture of Ideology

William D. Gairdner


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A wide-ranging tour of such topics as philology as criticism, the Marxist impasse, and literature and the flight from determinism.

“While more complex and subtle than a manifesto, The Critical Wager has something of a manifesto’s sense of historical moment. Gairdner feels all the ideologies he examines to be equally interesting, but strongly favors — and articulately advocates — a broadly existentialist position, which ‘holds the hope for humanity of a responsible and creative freedom ...’ To this extent, The Critical Wager is an optimistic book. It is also an uncommonly attractive one, argued, as it is, with intelligence, verve, and grace.”

David Halliburton, Professor Emeritus, Department of English, Stanford University

“William Gairdner has successfully achieved an original explanation of the main critical systems which are alive today ... By comparing these various approaches according to their characteristic driving forces and the problems to which they are characteristically blind, The Critical Wager makes it possible for the average reader to understand the whole progression of critical thought since the Romantic period ... Gairdner writes with a rare first-hand immediacy, and an incisive and commonsensical enthusiasm which commands attention and respect.”

Ian Watt, Former Chairman, Department of English, Stanford University, and author of The Rise of the Novel