11 OCTOBER 2003, Page 18

Mind your language

'What's he mean "After Theory"? Doesn't make sense,' said my husband looking up from the paper with no further clues.

Luckily, I'd already noticed that the funny old Marxist Terry Eagleton was bringing out a book calledAfter Theory. Not a moment too soon, I thought, since theory was such a dull commie take on literature. But isn't After ridiculously overused as a title word? Indeed someone called Thomas Docherty wrote a book calledAfter Theory as long ago as 1990. There is also Life After Theory, and Prof Eagleton surely must know that his colleague Valentine Cunningham has written one called Reading After Theory. And we've had the unreadable After Writing from Catherine Pickstock and, in the publishers' catalogues, Shalcespeare After Theory, quite apart from Shakespeare After Mass Media and Tempests After Shakespeare.

I don't know who started it. Aldous Huxley's After Many a Summer merely used a familiar prepositional phrase. But then Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote After Julius, and there are After Henry and After Haggerty and After Hannibal, Among theoretical books, Leo Stoller wrote After 'Walden in 1957 and George Steiner After Babel in 1970.

Pity the bookshop assistant asked for a book withAfter in the title. He must not confuse Heikld Patomald (After Internafional Relations) with Haruki Murakami (After the Quake). He must separateAfterAll, poems by William Matthews, from another book called After All that is not poems but by Mary Tyler Moore. Imagine seeking After Thoughts by Max Bygraves and gettingAfter Thought, a study of computing in the future; or, worse, vice versa.

There's After Freedom and After Authoritarianism, AfterAuthonty and After Libertarianism, After Hegemony and After the Empire (American); After Modemity What? and After Truth; Life After God and After God (by Don Cupitt);AfterAquinas (by Fergus Kerr) and After Virtue (by Alasdair MacIntyre). A lot seems tendentious before you've got past the cover.

There are place-names that stand for events: After Three Mile Island; After Rwanda; After Vietnam. There are the apparently contradictory: Byzantium After Byzantium;Religion After Religion. There is the futuristic after After Modernity; After Postmodernism; After Poststructuralism.

Apart fromAfter September II, another book on the same subject is simply called After. But another book calledAfter is on the Shoa. There are plenty more in the pipeline. Merlin Holland'sAfter Oscar is due out next year, and a book by Jenny Diski is to be calledAfter 'These Things.

I think after is a bit passe.