[ilds] baboonism

Pamela Francis albigensian at hotmail.com
Sat Jul 7 10:43:55 PDT 2007

Yes, Virginia, literary texts ARE still read in universities...and I feel a 
real return of the close reading, at least in some areas.  And one still has 
to have an "area" or "period" in which the academic is well-read; I, for 
instance, am a "modernist"--however, I read modernist texts using what Bill 
has called the "necessary category" of postcolonial theory.  This means i 
use that category to help get at the text, but it still requires careful 
close reading of the primary text.  Some academics, however, make "theory" 
their "area" and their "period".  I don't know about other universities, but 
the English dept (graduate level) at Rice is very primary-text oriented, but 
even undergraduates are expected to be familiar with the variety of 
theoretical categories--or lenses--to aid their reading of the text.  I find 
it very constructive--close reading alone, without any sort of structure, 
too often winds up being "what this novel means to me"--in short, it does 
nothing.  Some people, of course, don't want their reading to "do anything" 
and that's fine.  But in order to compete with other departments, such as 
the sciences or business, which produce a "product", we have to be able to 
say we're doing something.  This is a big bone of contention in English 
departments everywhere--Stanley Fish, for instance, thinks we're just 
kidding ourselves and should just admit that the study of literature has no 
use-value, and sit around on our elitist butts and read books just for the 
fun of it.  Which, of course, he is doing, at a six-figure salary that could 
pay for two or three positions for instructors who actually teach classes.  
Others of us want students to know that literature does mean something--that 
it came out of a particular context and makes certain points, undermines 
certain metanarratives, subverts this cultural assumption, bolsters that 
ideology.  But that New Criticism slouching toward the MLA never really went 
away; it's just been exploited by categories with sexier names.

>From: william godshalk <godshawl at email.uc.edu>
>Reply-To: ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>To: Bruce Redwine <bredwine1968 at earthlink.net>, ilds at lists.uvic.ca
>Subject: Re: [ilds] baboonism
>Date: Sat, 07 Jul 2007 12:02:47 -0400
>Bruce asks some questions:
>I'm curious -- are primary
>texts still taught in the universities these days?  Or are they on
>the supplemental, not-required reading list?  Not a silly
>question.  Read the big academic journals these days and you note
>that primary texts are simply used to support whims and theories. 
>Presumably, writing those kinds of articles will advance your academic
>career.  You never have to touch ground.  Didn't Swift write
>about such airheads living in the sky?
>Yes, some of us teach literary texts, e.g. Shakespeare, Milton,
>Woolf. I leave philosophy (i.e. theory) to the philosophers who have
>their bastion down the hall from English.
>Yes, in your description of the pretentious world of the MLA, I think you
>may be correct -- for the moment. Theory seems to be more prominent than
>literature, postcolonial theory more prominent than, say, Haggard's
>She or John Masters's wonderful Indian novels.
>But the text will return -- the return of the repressed! The New Critics
>took us back to the text. Some where a New New Criticism is slouching
>toward MLA Headquarters.
>Gulliver's Travels, Part 3.
>W. L.
>        *
>Department of
>English         *
>University of
>Stellar disorder  *
>Cincinnati OH 45221-0069      *

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