Straight outta Manchester
An amiable courier agent just knocked on my door and handed me six copies of The Crisis of Theory: EP Thompson, the New Left, and Postwar British Politics, the hardcover volume published recently by Manchester University Press. Looking down the cover of one of the strange tomes, I noticed that the author had the same name as me.
The arrival of this, my third book, brings to a close an inglorious era which began all the way back in the middle of 2002, when I began to pursue some ill-focused research into the British historian, politician, indifferent poet, and cricketer EP Thompson, with the intention of one day writing a PhD thesis. The thesis was taken off my hands in April 2008, and I was eventually encouraged to turn it into a book.
The hardest part of the whole process seems, in retrospect, to have been the compiling of an index. The task brought back memories of a rainy childhood afternoon spent weeping in frustration over a jigsaw puzzle. I didn't get an index off to Manchester until around about last Christmas, which is why the release date for the book was knocked back a bit.
The saddest part of the process came last February, when EP's widow Dorothy died at the age of eighty-seven. As I explained at the time, Dorothy and I had exchanged scores of e mails about the book, and had perhaps almost come to think of ourselves as co-authors.
Now that The Crisis of Theory has arrived, I face a problem. When I was in the my early twenties, I had only two real ambitions: I wanted to publish a book of poetry which was favourably reviewed in Landfall, New Zealand's venerable literary journal, and I wanted to publish a scholarly book with a prestigious academic press (I never really wanted to become an academic: the notion of giving the same stage one lecture for thirty or forty years and regularly marking hundreds of essays on topics like 'Symbolism in the Lord of Flies' or 'Is Structure or Agency More Important in Driving Social Change?' seemed far too redolent of that rainy jigsaw puzzle afternoon...)
I never seriously expected to achieve either of my goals - at the time I conceived them, I was about halfway through an epic five year Bachelor of Arts degree, and my poems were being returned, sometimes without comment, from a variety of magazines - but I got the Landfall review back in 2007, and now I have the scholarly book. What else is there, now, to do in life? How can I fill in those empty endless hours? Will I have to get a hobby, like bowls or pig hunting, or start watching TV, or - horror of horrors! - get a proper job? All of a sudden I'm wondering whether I should have dragged that index-compiling out just a little bit longer...
Many of the chapters of the new book appeared in draft form on this blog: the drafts can be found via this page. You can read the curious story of the making of the cover of The Crisis of Theory here.
Some of you will find yourselves, perhaps to your alarm, on my acknowledgments page (click to read it):