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In the aftermath of debate about the death of literary theory, Austin Quigley asks whether theory has failed us or we have failed literary theory. Theory can thrive, he argues, only if we understand how it can be strategically deployed to reveal what it does not presuppose. This involves the repositioning of theoretical inquiry relative to historical and critical inquiry and the repositioning of theories relative to each other. What follows is a re-examination of the controversial claims of pluralism in literary studies. The book explores the related roles of literary history, criticism and theory by tracing the history of linguistics as an intellectual problem in the 20th century. Quigley's approach clarifies the pluralistic nature of literary inquiry, the viability and life cycles of theories, the controversial status of canonicity and the polemical nature of the culture wars by positioning them all in the context of recurring debates about language that have their earliest exemplifications in classical times.