With a wince that suggests he was mystified as well as disgusted by what has been going on in academe, McEwan says the discussion and teaching of literature has taken a perverse, pseudo-scientific turn.
"Theory has taken hold of people's minds. So a language that is fairly repellent to the lay reader often makes it rather dull, and they are in the grip of other people's theories.
"I remember for a long stretch of time people would come to interview me, especially French, German, Italian journalists who were themselves quite academic, and they would say, 'What is your theory of the body?"' he recalls.
"And the fact that I have been asked that bit 10 times, you know that this is the latest thing. Before that they would say, 'Well, let's talk about the male gaze."'
At this point the gently spoken author's tone moves from puzzlement to full-on exasperation.
"That is when you know you are in the realm of some higher bullshit.
"And then suddenly, as if God had snapped his fingers, no one is asking you about the male gaze, no one is asking you about your theory of the body, because it's something else. And that is the danger of these theories. They have a shelf life of five years.
"I think this whole style of treating literature started in the mid-1980s and it swept right through, but now I think - I hope - it is dying."
Wednesday, February 6
"the realm of some higher bullshit"
Ian McEwan chats with The Australian: