November 29, 2016

"English, without knowing it, has fallen into an intense version of this kind of professional groupthink."

"I believe that the profession can’t really move forward until we shed our fear of saying and thinking things that colleagues would call ‘humanist.’"
"It’s not the case that if you were just less politicized in your reading of Jane Austen, all of a sudden Scott Walker’s going to say, ‘Oh, no, I love the University of Wisconsin system.’ If the postcritical project is going to survive, it can’t just rest on the idea that we have to make literary studies comprehensible to people who don’t know a lot about it or don’t do the requisite reading."

36 comments:

SDaly said...

The statement that this occurred "without knowing it" reveals a level of naiveté unworthy of a true scholar.

Mike said...

I have a BA in English and still have a hard time understanding what the hell he is saying. Maybe the whole post-modern deconstructionist BS ought to be reconsidered?

Bob Ellison said...

Can we please just stop with the Jane Austen? Can we just stand up and say it's crap that we didn't like in high school and weren't allowed to say it was crap back then?

rhhardin said...

The trouble with Jane Austin movies is bonnets. No guy is going to watch a movie with bonnets.

rhhardin said...

Hugh Grant in The Rewrite argued out Jane Austen with a feminist professor.

Grant wasn't buying the line.

Quaestor said...

If the postcritical project is going to survive, it can’t just rest on the idea that we have to make literary studies comprehensible to people who don’t know a lot about it or don’t do the requisite reading.

If literary studies are incomprehensible to us non-Liberal Arts peons it's because the majority of people who publish in the thousand-odd (very odd) journals of the MLA couldn't logic their way out of a wet paper bag.

rhhardin said...

The original postmodern criticism looked more at how an author was forced to say what he did not want to say, as a force necessarily acting on the work.

Today they take the concealment aspect but use it to expost something external that they don't like.

Evidently he's saying that doesn't work well as analysis.

mccullough said...

Sounds like she's serious about aesthetics. Why do we like or are moved by certain poems, books, and other works? Most literary critics aren't. They murder to dissect.

Comanche Voter said...

Group navel gazing. Come on Laslo do a riff on that.

Bob Ellison said...

I am writing this to seem both obtuse and feminine. Whatever.

Paddy O said...

Remember in junior high and kids would show off by jumping off a high wall, then higher, then the tree. Or do any number of other increasingly escalating stunts to one up each other, both impressed by each other and impressing.

That's what a lot of academia is. People who have some level of enjoyment but are really wanting to show off to each other. And like anything in that vein, it has to get more and more outlandish to stand out.

Anyone can jump off a table. But who can jump off that side of a building?!

Much of academia is really just the show Jackass dressed up in tweed and using fancy vocabulary and complicated sentence structure instead hitting an athletic cup with a sledgehammer. The effect and purpose is much the same.

Paddy O said...

rhhardin, nice summary. That's it, and succinctly put.

DougWeber said...

The problem I have always had with the English Department is exemplified by trying to answer the question: "Does the world need another doctoral thesis on Moby Dick?"
At some point the output of English Departments exceeds the output of authors worthy of examination. Then the English Department either get repetitious or find a whole new way to criticize.

traditionalguy said...

Calling Camille Paglia. Stat!

Good Literature is the beating heart of western civilization. And it has had a stake put through it by the Head-Communists-In-Charge of University life. Now they want applause for killing it.

traditionalguy said...

Does the world need another medical school? It studies the same old human body every time.

It's needed for the education of new doctors, stupid.

mikee said...

It isn't that frameworks aren't useful to analyze literature. Feminism and Marxism can explain a lot in some literature. But the complete abjuration of Western Civilization as a framework worth following is a damn perversion of the humanities.

Simon Kenton said...

From the article: "Members of Felski’s circle, who sometimes publish under the banner of "postcritical reading," feel a need to emphasize that questioning critique does not mean abandoning one’s political commitments, be they Marxist, feminist, or queer."

That's quietly perfect. Obviously, to the author, Marxist, feminist, or queer are the only political commitments you'll find in practitioners of modern literary scholarship. Didn't even think twice about it. And I expect that's true. Back when one studied English (and tried to write it, too), there actually existed professors in that Department with political commitments other than Marxist, feminist, or queer. There even existed professors with - so far as one could learn by questioning them - no political commitment at all, though a great love for and devotion to the subject. Now "English" persists as a department because math is hard and the department has persuaded the university to force freshmen through the venturi of "humanities" requirements. Math will always be hard so there will always be some hirsute students whinging around in the hallways, but a forced supply of students there only to meet requirements that the teachers themselves hold in contempt may dry up. If you no longer enjoy, much less love, literature; if you take it as a given that there is nothing "humane" about the study of humanities; if you reduce the tradition of great books to cremains of dead white guys, then it is hard to argue that the university should force-feed you a supply of students just so you can keep a job. The English department will get merged with the Studies and Communication and Journalism departments, and moved as a collective to an outbuilding near the campus heating and sewage treatment facility.

A shame. I still hear the voice of Doctor Richardson when re-reading Hamlet. But it's a denouement they have brought upon themselves. Can't say fairer than that.

buwaya puti said...

Traditionalguy and S Kenton are right.

Besides this,

This whole business, the entire academic enterprise of "English" or "Literature" is a pimple on a corpse, that of the market for literature. The essential element in having a literature in the first place is readers, authors are second, and critics or academics are nowhere.

And I think it is the literary academics that killed it. It was their political criticism that taught their idiot androids in the schools of education to program their schoolteacher robots to destroy any popular interest in literature.

MadisonMan said...

The antidote to GroupThink is often just a single voice -- but in the very homogeneous (from a political point of view) English Dept, it's pretty unlikely that someone will become that voice, because they're all agreeing with each other.

I'm sure most of them will agree that Diversity is very important for a University, and they'll all say it with one loud voice and miss the irony.

Unknown said...

It's an exciting time to be a reader. Disintermediation has come. The gatekeepers are falling. You can go on amazon (through the Althouse portal!) and find any number of books for $2.99 or less. Some of them are awful. Many are unpolished, many are as polished as any Harpenguin offering. But all of them are, by God, *about something*.

Universities may have killed literature, but authors are bringing back reading.

Peter said...

"At some point the output of English Departments exceeds the output of authors worthy of examination. Then the English Department either get repetitious or find a whole new way to criticize."

... Then they realize that authors and their works were never very interesting anyway, and proceed to ingore them by projecting contemporary fads and politics onto the now-blank slate of the texts.

It's surely been true for a very long time that it's become somewhere between difficult and impossible to do original research on any reasonably well-known authors or works just because the fields have been worked over so many times that there are essentially no original-research furrows left to plow in them.

So what's anyone from a doctoral candidate to a tenure-track proefessor supposed to do? And, once everyone's realized there's precious little left to do, couldn't we just admit that much of academic humanities faculty lives in a self-referential hall-of-mirrors, with little reason to exist other than (like life itself!) to perpetuate itself and just leave it at that?

It's not as if many outside the academy would ever feel any loss (or perhaps even notice) if, tomorrow, many of these departments simply ceased to exist.

The Gold Digger said...

I was an English major in college.

1. I did not know the political beliefs of any of my professors.
2. I loved reading great books and giving my opinion about them. I still feel like I got away with something because who gives you a degree just for reading fabulous books you would want to read anyhow? Engineers and scientists have to work. English majors? We just enjoy ourselves.

Larry J said...

Peter said...
"At some point the output of English Departments exceeds the output of authors worthy of examination. Then the English Department either get repetitious or find a whole new way to criticize."

... Then they realize that authors and their works were never very interesting anyway, and proceed to ingore them by projecting contemporary fads and politics onto the now-blank slate of the texts.

It's surely been true for a very long time that it's become somewhere between difficult and impossible to do original research on any reasonably well-known authors or works just because the fields have been worked over so many times that there are essentially no original-research furrows left to plow in them.


This reminds me of a Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone:

In political jargon, a self-licking ice cream cone is a self-perpetuating system that has no purpose other than to sustain itself. The phrase appeared to have been first used in 1992, in On Self-Licking Ice Cream Cones, a paper by Pete Worden about NASA's bureaucracy.

Unknown said...

While it is true that all authors have been a captive of their time and place, the dissections of literature that are often done are as likely nonsense as not, and, like an autopsy, pretty gruesome and no longer alive. The complete rejection of standards of both writing and logic (i.e., post-modernism, deconstructionism) have resulting in literary criticism that is not merely opaque but nonsensical. And we should pay for nonsense why?

damikesc said...

Ironic how indecipherable people are with post-graduate English degrees.

Hyphenated American said...

This is weird. I am not an English major, I work as an engineer, and yet I read Nabokov's both volumes onf lectures on literature and understood them pretty well. And Nabokov clearly had a towering intellect, and he was not the simplest or easiest writer. Maybe the reason why the articles by American professors of English are not decipherable is because they are morons writing idiotic crap... just a thought.

tim in vermont said...

Useless horse shit nobody is going to read in thirty years. Their project is not literary criticism, it is cultural criticism and they are just one more column in the left's long march through the institutions.

Who doesn't want to tell other people how to live!?! Still and all, I am happy I majored in English, with enough math and engineering that I was always able to find decent work though.

BN said...

What do you get when you cross an Engineer, an English Major, and a Business Major?

A deconstructed, socially awkward widget..

...with a plan and a need for investors.

Michael K said...

I was an English major went I went back to school to do pre-med. They would not give loan to a pre-med but would to an English major. I took both sets of courses and enjoyed English literature very much. Like The Gold Digger, I had no idea of my professor's politics.

There is no way I would subject myself to that nonsense now.

Zach said...

Members of Felski’s circle, who sometimes publish under the banner of "postcritical reading," feel a need to emphasize that questioning critique does not mean abandoning one’s political commitments, be they Marxist, feminist, or queer. "If you challenge the idea of suspicion as the only mode of reading, you are then immediately accused of being conservative in relation to all those politics," says Toril Moi, a Duke literature professor who contributed to a forthcoming essay collection on critique. "I don’t think that’s true at all. I still think I’m a feminist." The current "revolt," she says, "is very much against the idea that we all can only read for one reason, namely political critique."

I actually agree with this, but I have a practical critique. If the object of literature is literature and not political critique, then what use are the legions of scholars who use literature as a stalking horse for politics?

Right now, radical politics aren't just a tedious bore. They're also a *professional qualification* for people who probably suspect they wouldn't have a job come the revolution. So how do you get people to change?

tim in vermont said...

You get people to change "one funeral at a time. "

ken in tx said...

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Samuel Johnson.

protestmanager said...

" If the postcritical project is going to survive, it can’t just rest on the idea that we have to make literary studies comprehensible to people who don’t know a lot about it"

IOW, "we should become even more of an incestuous circle-jerk."

protestmanager said...

traditionalguy said...
Does the world need another medical school? It studies the same old human body every time.

It's needed for the education of new doctors, stupid.


Sorry, traditionalguy, but you've missed the boat here. Medical school instructors need to be doctors, which means they need an MD.

"English Professors" must have a Ph. D. in English, which means they must write an original thesis on something that falls under the subject of "English".

Now, change the rules so English classes can all be taught by people with MAs, accept that 90% of English grad students won't get PH. D.s, and we're good to go

Martin said...

Deconstruction destroyed the literary humanities by setting the critic above the artist. They could address most of what ails them by jettisoning that and going back to respecting the creators and the original texts and analyzing them on well-stated terms. If you read about the "revisionists" of the last 10-20 years, that seems a common theme.

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