Tribute… a cultural critic undaunted by words, wisdom and waiters

As I mentioned in a previous post, by chance I was fortunate to go to the College of Commerce in Manchester, in the first year it was part of Manchester Polytechnic; “The Rolls Royce of polytechnics,” the director Dr Smith said at the time.. but more of that in another post!

I did a degree in History and English with French as a subsidiary subject at Colcom and had many excellent teachers and lectures, Dr Chivers, Trevor Thomas, David Olive, Dr Kelly, wonderful Monsieur Morris… and Anthony Easthope. He was a charismatic teacher and his lectures and seminars were always full to bursting, no absenteeism or slacking when he was delivering! He was such an intelligent and interesting man, unforgettable. He chain smoked though classes… yes smoking was allowed in those days, we all had cigarettes going… how foul it must have been! As he finished each cigarette, he stood the butt on its end like a little tower topped with ash; by the end of the lecture, a parade of these little castles stood along the window sill.

He made a huge impact on all who knew him, I’m sure none of us have forgotten him. I knew he had died but recently found this obituary

Antony Easthope

Cultural critic undaunted by words, wisdom and waiters

  • Catherine Belsey
  • Friday 17 December 1999
  • The Guardian
The scholar and critic Antony Easthope, who has died aged 60, was a controversialist and an engaged intellectual in a way more common abroad than in Britain. As professor of English and cultural studies at Manchester Metropolitan university, his work was often risky, always provocative and, during the last two decades, he contributed substantially to the transformation of English studies.In print, Easthope attacked Isaiah Berlin, Raymond Tallis, Seamus Heaney – more than once – Craig Raine, Sir James Beaumont, Sir Frank Kermode and Sir Keith (later Lord) Joseph. After six years of long letters in the Guardian criticising what he saw as the BBC’s biased news coverage, he finally got a response in 1984 from the assistant director-general. Easthope also attacked the Guardian for not being as good as Libération in France.Conversely, he defended the likes of the Canadian film director David Cronenberg, observing that if his controversial film Crash was perverse, “so is the human species”. Once finding himself next to Norman Lamont in a taxi queue, he explained to the former chancellor the error of his financial ways.Easthope’s first book, Poetry As Discourse (1983), set out to make accessible the radical theories of language and culture developed in 1960s Paris, which had been resisted by bluff British common sense. A psychoanalytic reading of a nursery rhyme prompted much old-school derision, but Easthope’s account of the role of the pentameter in constructing the Renaissance poetic illusion of an individual speaking voice remains unsurpassed.

In 1986 came a critical analysis of ideals of masculinity, and then British Poststructuralism (1988) and Poetry And Phantasy (1989). Two years later, Literary Into Cultural Studies argued that there was no obvious or timeless difference of value between literature and popular culture: both were markers of taste, and subject to fashion. Easthope parried the question whether The Lord Of The Rings was better than Ulysses with “better for what?”

A similar irreverence characterised Wordsworth Now And Then (1993), and might be seen as the driving force of Englishness And National Culture (1999). The latter argues that English empiricism has fended off every major intellectual development of the 20th century, leaving us with an impoverished intelligentsia – and no serious literary alternative to the school of Thomas Hardy.

In that instance, Easthope wore his theoretical sophistication lightly. The case is argued in the plain style approved by empiricism itself – transparent, urbane and ironic. Favourable responses to Englishness And National Culture indicate how far cultural analysis has travelled since Easthope’s earliest interventions. The distance covered owed much to his tireless energy in arguing the need for change.

Easthope was educated at Tiffin boys’ school, Kingston-upon-Thames, and graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge, in English in 1961. In a formative moment, his Cambridge supervisor, Professor Graham Hough, reprimanded him for his essay on what he thought were Yeats’s most important poems.

As Easthope recalled the episode in the Guardian when Hough died, Hough had said: “You don’t know anything about it. You soon find out which are the best when you are in a Japanese concentration camp with dysentery and the only paper you have is The Collected Poems Of WB Yeats.”

Easthope took a master’s degree in 1967, with a comparative study of 10 tragedies. After working in America and at Warwick university, he was appointed in 1969 to an English lectureship at Manchester polytechnic. When it became Manchester Metropolitan university in 1991, he became professor.

He was always taken aback when people found him offensive. He was not aggressive, and was incapable of malice. His direct style sprang from an impatience with small talk and a deep interest in the issues. Having dinner with him could take time. Waiters were repeatedly sent away if taking the order would hold up the argument. To his close friends, he was intensely loyal, affectionate, supportive – and surprisingly tactful. In the last analysis, his political convictions sprang from an intense sympathy for distress of any kind.

Easthope’s closest relationship was with his wife, Diane. He leaves two daughters and a son, to whom he was also devoted.

• Antony Kelynge Revington Easthope, academic, born April 14 1939; died December 14 1999

When he was lecturing us, he was only thirty… he died prematurely at the age of sixty… a sad, very sad loss.


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