For most of his professional life Peter has been thinking about the idea of culture as it has been shaped and reshaped over the past two hundred years, and about the processes and perils of literary guardianship, especially in the complex, mobile, and interconnected world that emerged in the course of the long twentieth century. This guiding preoccupation has informed his work on censorship, the rise of mass culture, media history and questions of the book, the public value of literature, critical theory, and interculturalism. It has also led Peter to write on an eclectic range of authors, including Arnold, Beckett, Bennett, Blanchot, Bourdieu, Brink, Breytenbach, Amit Chaudhuri, Coetzee, Conan Doyle, Conrad, Derrida, T.S. Eliot, Gordimer, Kirsty Gunn, Sarah Howe, Jensma, Joyce, Krog, Lawrence, Matthews, Mehrotra, Mphahlele, Ndebele, Pound, Rushdie, Serote, Tagore, Woolf, and Yeats.
Peter teaches literatures in English from around 1830 to the present and critical theory.
Selected publications and other links
- Artefacts of Writing: Ideas of the State and Communities of Letters from Matthew Arnold to Xu Bing (Oxford, 2017); also associated website www.artefactsofwriting.com.
- The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences (Oxford, 2009); also associated website www.theliteraturepolice.com. TLS book of the year, Guardian Christmas book, 2009; shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Writing, 2011.
- Co-editor, with Derek Attridge, of Interventions 4.3, Autumn 2002 (Special issue on J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace).
- Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays by D. F. McKenzie, with Michael Suarez (University of Massachusetts Press, 2002)
- British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice, 1880-1914 (Cambridge, 1997)
- ‘Coetzee’s Critique of Language’, chapter contribution to Beyond the Ancient Quarrel: Literature, Philosophy, and J. M. Coetzee, eds. Patrick Hayes and Jan Wilm (Oxford, 2017).
- ‘On Strong Opinions: celebrity authors in the contemporary agora’, Celebrity Studies, 8:1 (2017), 172-75.
- ‘What about criticism?: Blanchot’s Giant-Windmill’, chapter contribution to Literary Activism: A Symposium, ed. Amit Chaudhuri (Boiler House Press, 2017).
- ‘Quelle littérature? Quelle démocratie? Quel espace public?’, Communications, 99 (2016), 123-31.
- ‘Semper Aliquid Novi: Reclaiming the Future of Book History from an African Perspective’, Book History, 19 (2016), 384-98.
- ‘Libellous Literature: Elton John and the Perils of Close Reading’, chapter contribution to Literary Trials, ed. Ralf Grüttermeier (Bloomsbury, 2016).
- ‘Instituting (World) Literature’, chapter contribution to The Institution of World Literature, eds. Stefan Helgesson and Pieter Vermeulen (Routledge, 2016).
- ‘Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and the Interplay of Languages’, chapter contribution to A History of Indian Poetry in English, ed. Rosinka Chaudhuri (Cambridge, 2016).
- ‘That Monstrous Thing’: The Critic as Censor’, chapter contribution to Censorship and the Limits Literary, ed. Nicole Moore (Bloomsbury, 2015).
- ‘The Space Between: Ways of Looking at the Art of Xu Bing’, Landscape/Landscript (Ashmolean, 2013). Revised and reprinted in Imraan Coovadia, et. al., eds., Relocations: Reading Culture in South Africa (Cape Town: UCT Press, 2015), 167-78.
- ‘The Book in South Africa’, chapter contribution to the Cambridge History of South African Literature, eds. Derek Attridge and David Atwell (Cambridge, 2012).
- ‘Thinking Interculturally: Amartya Sen’s Lovers Revisited’, Interventions, 13.3 (2011), 367-85.
- ‘The Present is Another Country: A Comment on the 2010 Media Freedom Debate’, Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 32.1 (2011), 122-34.
- ‘Calder’s Beckett’, chapter contribution to Publishing Samuel Beckett, ed. Mark Nixon (British Library, 2011).
- ‘The Ethics of Reading and the Question of the Novel: The Challenge of J. M. Coetzee’s Diary of a Bad Year’, Novel, 43.3 (2010), 483-99.
- ‘Government Censorship vs. Monopolistic Control: The Deformations of African Literary Publishing in the Apartheid Era’, chapter contribution to The Influence of D. F. McKenzie, ed. Alistair McCleery (Napier University, 2010).
- ‘Censor this Law’, Comment, Mail & Guardian, 1 May 2009, 14
- ‘Old Phrases and Great Obscenities: The Strange Afterlife of Two Victorian Anxieties’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 13.2, 2008.
- ‘Ideas of the Book and Histories of Literature: After Theory?’, PMLA, January 2006.
- ‘The Politics of Obscenity: Lady Chatterley’s Lover and the Apartheid State’, English Studies in Africa, 47.1, 2004.
- ‘The Writer, the Censor, and the Critic: J. M. Coetzee and the Question of Literature’ in Jane Poyner ed., J. M. Coetzee and the Idea of the Public Intellectual (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006).
- ‘Book History and Discipline Envy’, The European English Messenger, XIII: 1, Spring 2004: pp. 51-56.
- ‘Modernist Publishing: “Nomads and Mapmakers”’, A Concise Companion to Modernism, ed. David Bradshaw (Blackwells, 2003), 221-42.
- ‘Disgrace Effects’ Interventions 4.3, Autumn 2002, 321-30.
Read a review of The Literature Police on the Oxford University Press blog. Peter talked about the book on the BBC Word Service and on BBC Radio 4. See also https://writersandfreeexpression.com/.