Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Agrees that English Lit is dead

Actually, that last article was in response to this one, by Judith Halberstam, which also argues that English as a profession is dead. This argument is a bit stranger, and for me, less convincing.

To quote:
I propose that the discipline is dead, that we willingly killed it and that we now decide as serious scholars and committed intellectuals what should replace it in this new world of anti-intellectual backlash and religious fundamentalism.

Um, okay. It is dead, and it was killed. What's that about replacing it?

While we may all continue doing what we do — reading closely, looking for patterns and disturbances of patterns within cultural manifestations, determining the complex and fractal relations between cultural production and hegemonies —

Notice how she assumes that this is what we do... We're all politicizng literature apparently. No need to reconsider that.

once we call it something other than “English,” (like cultural studies, critical theory, theory and culture, etc.) it will neither look the same nor mean the same thing and nor will it occupy the same place in relation to the humanities in general, or within administrative plans for down-sizing;

So, we trick the numbers crunchers by changing the name? "Hey Joe! Remember how we were going to cut out the English department to make more room for that new wing of the Business School? Well, I can't find 'English' on this map? There's something called 'Critical Theory and Culture' where it used to be! Well, that sounds much more important than 'Comp. Lit'!"

it will also, I propose, be better equipped to meet the inevitable demands (which already began to surface after the last election) for an end to liberal bias on college campuses and so on.

And so on. Just change the name. Don't question whether sniffing out hegemonies is really the point of humanist study. Just change the name. That'll fool them.

Her other big plan to resurrect English lit? Well, she agrees with Gayatri Spivak, who wrote The Death of a Profession, which sadly, was not a confession of her own part in the murder.

while Spivak’s investment in the “close reading” and formalism betrays the elitist investments of her proposals for reinvention, I urge a consideration of non-elitist forms of knowledge production upon the otherwise brilliant formulations of The Death of a Discipline.

So, her big solution, and I wish I was making this up, is to focus less on "elitist" close reading (elitist because it is difficult) and replace that with plot summaries, which are apparently not elitist because, generally, even the dumbest students can do them.

I'm glad people are dealing with the problem. But, as Ms Soletan pointed out, most Western literature is already somewhat religious, and when it is not, often belies the deep soul hurt of a loss of religion. For an English lit professor to see her profession as the first line of defense against "religious fundamentalism" gets at the problem. But, never mind that! Just jump ship! The profession is dead, and we killed it, and now it's on to the next thing!

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