Thursday, September 24, 2009

. . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of (the) Dead

And so "abstruse theory" has played a hand in killing English departments. Oh merry students of my theory class, have ye any thoughts on the matter? Are ye dead yet?

8 comments:

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  3. Sorry for the past ones, I responded to the wrong post at first. Anyways, thank you, Professor, for the insightful and informative article. As a dance major, the fact that my field of study is not exactly "practical" in how society defines that word. I heartily believe, however, that does not exclude the field from having value (reaching into health fields, in the artistry essential for society's respite and awareness, etc). As the author described, the same is true for the field of English. Let's as a society remember that "success" in monetary, political, and other again "practical" means can only proliferate through the fruits of Humanities studies, and therefore, for these more seemingly relevant fields' own well-being, cannot be allowed to wither.

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  4. kbdancer,

    These issues are really, really, really relevant ones given the tensions regarding funding for education out in California.

    Michael Berube recently wrote a solid blog post, over at his chameleon-like blog, about the tensions surrounding his own assessment of cultural studies and the way that theory is, or is not, having any kind of discernable impact on higher education.

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  5. "English: from 7.6 percent of the majors to 3.9 percent
    Foreign languages and literatures: from 2.5 percent to 1.3 percent
    Philosophy and religious studies: from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent
    History: from 18.5 percent to 10.7 percent
    Business: from 13.7 percent to 21.9 percent"

    These statistics are misleading. First of all, the article doesn't state whether two-year colleges were considered, which would skew the data. It also ignores how many more people go to college now than in 1970. For a lot of people, there are just more reasons to keep studying after high school than there used to be. How many computer science majors were there in 1970, for example?

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  6. "In comparison with the pre-professional ambitions that dominate the lives of American undergraduates today, the psychological condition of students of the time was defined by self-reflection, innocence, and a casual irresponsibility about what was coming next."

    What is this even based on?

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  7. Good questions, Carolyn. Those arguments seem a bit essentialist. But they also point to the ways in which, arguably, our internal ambitions are constructed by the material world outside of us.

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  8. Of course most people in America choose plans of study based on what will let them get good work, this is a capitalist country.

    At least William M. Chace had the opportunity to educate himself at a time when people went to college to develop meaningful life philosophies. Lucky guy.

    This article was so hard to stomach, as is any statement of longing for the lost, glorious days of anything. Oh, to belong to a department which unquestionably (except during rare "investigations") celebrated the legacies and conventions of white men. He doesn't understand the liberation involved in deconstruction-- being able to read something for its myths as well as its truths. The English Department has to be the forum for these kinds of discussions, because these are the issues in literature and of literature. I'm being really abstract.

    Literature should not be studied as a thing apart from culture. English departments should study form as well as literature as a reflection of culture. If a given work is a signifier, then the signified is the assumptions and arguments the author makes about society and humanity. Those faddish, niche critical works about race and sex Chace talks about so condescendingly make diversity an option when thinking about canon. They don't dominate it.

    I tried to find reviews of this guy on Rate my Professor, but he evidently hasn't taught since the website was invented.

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