Returning to and rethinking Elgar

Elgar (in fake colour)

It’s been two years since I wrote anything at all on Elgar (two reviews in 2009) and four since I wrote any original research on him, but academics never really get to leave their doctoral projects behind. Just out in the latest issue of the Elgar Society Journal are two reviews of Elgar publications: a collection of essays on Elgar and Vaughan Williams, edited by Julian Rushton (Let Beauty Awake: Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Literature), and the first ever addition of Elgar’s incidental music for The Starlight Express (no relation to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical). Details are on my publications page.

Part of what I’m doing in the book I’m writing on sabbatical throughout 2011 (Modernism’s Quilting Points) is to radically rethink my published work on Elgar, particularly in Edward Elgar, Modernist (2006), where it is most elaborately theorized. I still stand by many of the insights of that earlier research, particularly concerning the philosophical underpinning of the project (essentially a Heideggerian reading of human temporality within the constraints of ideology – which Heidegger calls das Man), but I think that I, along with a number of other scholars, have made some terrible theoretical errors in the conception of modernism which I now see from a very different perspective. I see no particular reason why scholars should privilege personal consistency in their work when (a) nobody in their right mind would read a scholar’s entire output anyway, so aiming for consistency is essentially a little vain, (b) new intellectual engagements – particularly in my case Badiou, Žižek, and Marx – can radically alter a scholar’s view of their field, necessitating a change of general outlook, (c) I don’t believe in the consistency of the human subject from moment to moment anyway (both materially and psychologically I’m literally not the same person I was four years ago), and not least (d) different career stages – I’m now as securely in employment as any British academic can be in a system without tenure – enable different political possibilities, and there was no more urgent moment for explicitly Leftist work. Plus, while scholars are quick to lambast the work of others it might make a welcome change if their own past work is torn apart for a change.

I’ll be blogging about the new book chapter by chapter in the coming months as each chapter draft reaches completion (I’ve been quiet on this blog for a few months because I’ve been pressing on with the book at full speed). The book itself should be out with Cambridge University Press next year. Along with the failings of Harper-Scott in the middle of the last decade, the fatal entanglement of postmodernism with late capitalism will be subject to particularly merciless critique. It’s proving an enjoyable writing experience.



  1. (In response to your blog ‘Returning to . . . Elgar’

    Dagnabbit! Does that mean we’re going to have to pulp the XL book (or at least change the last sentence)?

    Hope you are well.


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