gall and gumption

Monday, January 17, 2005

Mythical Beasts

I came across this article in City Journal, about the reading habits of the English working classes in the 19th century and the early 20th century. Some of the testimonials are quite moving and just what you would expect if you yourself are a person who ever opened a book and found the world.

The writer of the article, Jonathan Rose, has actually written a book on the subject. I wrote a response to the article (there was the comments button and what could I do) and he wrote me back a pleasant reply.

Here's his reply:

Thanks so much for your note, which is as inspirational as it is
depressing. How did the study of literature become such a disaster
area? -- as it certainly is at my university, where the last real English
professor retired 15 years ago. It's a bloody shame that you had to
leave academia, though I can hardly blame you. If you love literature as
much as you do, I'm surprised they let you take your doctorate.

Well, if you want to read about more ludic readers, there's my
book "The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes," from which
the article was excerpted. I guess it's a good sign that Greenblatt &
Co. are now tripping over each other to publish popular bios of
Shakespeare: evidently there's still an audience for literature, in spite of all
their efforts to kill it.


Here's what he replied to. I dunno, maybe I should switch these around.

In 1988 or 1989 I dropped into a weekend academic conference of English
professors that was held at UC Santa Barbara, where I was finishing up a Doctorate in English. Katharine Stimpson, who went on to become president of the MLA, spoke. She said she had heard rumors of a creature called the "ludic reader," a person who read works of "classic literature," the sort of thing this article discusses, for pleasure. She had never met such a person and was not quite prepared to state positively that they existed.

I raised my hand and said that I was such a reader. In that same year, during an external review of the academic department, one of the external reviewers took great offense at my attitude to literature which he characterized as "quasi-religious".

Oh and at the same conference Stanley Fish got up and reminded everyone that the profession of English Professing was about -- itself.

The voices of working class people that you cite in this article are touching in the extreme. The profound experiences which they speak of are of no interest to most academics in the humanities, I regret to say.

The humanities are about how to be a human being. There really isn't anything else of very great importance for English professors to do other than to explore that with their students who are in the process of becoming human beings and who, like all of us, need all the help we can get to be decent ones.

People who persist, as I have, in preferring what I can learn from Pushkin or Sophocles or Primo Levi or James Baldwin or Jane Austen or Montaigne to whatever Frederic Jameson's latest emission is, well, we don't find a warm home in academic life. I gave up being an academic seven years ago. It still happens to me that I am walking down the street in some city or other and a former student (from years before I quit) will recognize me and give me a hug of gratitude. I taught them that literature was theirs to own without intermediaries and that it would yield as much as the quality of their attention would allow, and I tried, in the classroom, to show by such nonrevolutionary methods as 1)nagging and 2) the example of my own
excitement and 3)respect for their position on the REAL frontier of literary study, that their literary experience actually meant something to me. I wanted to give students enough excitement about literature for them to be able to turn to it for pleasure and wisdom over a lifetime. I suppose if they come and hug me in the
street I must have done it at least partly right.

What made it worse for me as an academic was that I was a minority and a woman and therefore wasn't supposed to be excited about things like Tristram Shandy, which I still read once a year just for pure pleasure and inspiration. All these people who were so concerned about diversity, who got up in meetings and defended unreadable postcolonial novels or at best didn't distinguish between the bad stuff and the good stuff, were utter reactionaries when it came to the class dynamics of the academic
system. If you were a minority you were supposed to quietly beaver away at the
works of Ngugi but you were not supposed to grab hold of the poetry of Donne. Much of literary theory defended this position, a sort of sanctimonious unaware racism.

It was a liberal academic who said to me one day, "Surely you don't mean to suggest that there are universal human values?"

I go at least as far as committing myself to the Geneva Convention and the
fundamentals of human rights, which a large part of the academic profession
now finds itself unable, in the terms of its own theoretical pronouncements of the past 20 years and its total abdication of the simple task of teaching the humanities, to defend.


So today because I wanted to blog this I needed to find the link to the article on City Journal's web page. And I found their home page and was appalled by most of the content. Look at the current issue but don't read it if you've just eaten. But his article was interesting. He lives in England and I think it's a quite different situation over there, academywise.

So in his letter he asks how literary study got itself into such a bad state. I don't know if he wants me to actually write him back and tell him. So I won't. But I will make a small beginning here. Bertrand Russell told this story about giving a talk to some people who were interested in philosophy but were not professional philsophers. I guess you could call them "ludic philosophers" heheh. It was on cosmology. And this one woman at the end said that there was a theory somewhere that the Universe was sitting on the back of a big turtle. Russell said something polite and then said the theory didn't work because what was the turtle sitting on. "It's turtles all the way down!" said the woman. I can't remember which of his books it's in. I can't read Russell's writing any more, haven't been able to for years. It just seems wrong that a person who can write such perfect English prose should be so silly.

Anyway the City Journal is apparently celebrating the faltering of the academic left. To them I simply say, it's not about the left: "It's appallingness all the way down!" It has nothing to do with their politics. It has to do with their boringness which is the anterior cause of their politics, of probably everybody's politics come to think of it. It wasn't the politics of the whole class of people that Marvin called "small rodents" that irritated me -- it was their unreflecting flatheaded heartlessness and ignorance. You can take that and go left or right and it doesn't make any difference, except at election time. It doesn't make any difference as far as literature is concerned. If you're a bore literature has nothing to say to you. Right or left. And people who imagine that the issue is academic politics (right or left) can be fairly counted on not to have one useful word to say about literature. So let them all get drowned together, is my feeling about it.


15 Comments:

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

I recall distinctly the moment in graduate school when it was revealed to me that all of the enthusiasm, the value, the pleasure, the imaginative life, which I attributed to books I liked was no longer to be considered worth a moment's attention. I was going on about how much I liked Ariosto when I was informed by a fellow grad student that we no longer actually read literature, but only literary theory.

Later on it became clearer to me that only if one read literature with the passion of genuine delight could one say anything worthwhile about it from any perspective whatsoever. But it took years of listening to people who had stopped reading, or enjoying what they read, but who professed to understand it all perfectly well, before I saw the error.

 
At 7:07 AM, Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Another view

 
At 9:54 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

christian louboutin shoes, louis vuitton outlet, true religion, coach outlet, gucci handbags, polo ralph lauren outlet, christian louboutin outlet, michael kors outlet, prada handbags, nike outlet, polo ralph lauren, ray ban outlet, nike free, michael kors outlet store, louis vuitton handbags, louis vuitton, cheap oakley sunglasses, christian louboutin, chanel handbags, tiffany and co jewelry, michael kors outlet online, ray ban sunglasses, oakley vault, prada outlet, michael kors outlet online, true religion outlet, michael kors outlet online, nike air max, coach outlet store online, oakley sunglasses, burberry outlet online, nike air max, michael kors handbags, longchamp outlet online, kate spade outlet online, burberry outlet online, longchamp handbags, kate spade outlet, jordan shoes, red bottom shoes, longchamp outlet, tory burch outlet online, coach outlet, louis vuitton outlet online, louis vuitton outlet, coach purses, tiffany jewelry

 
At 9:56 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

louis vuitton pas cher, ralph lauren pas cher, vans pas cher, lululemon, lacoste pas cher, nike air max, air max, abercrombie and fitch, timberland, nike free pas cher, sac michael kors, louis vuitton uk, north face, new balance pas cher, barbour, north face pas cher, tn pas cher, nike roshe run, burberry pas cher, hollister, ray ban pas cher, nike air force, true religion outlet, ralph lauren, mulberry, nike air max, oakley pas cher, nike free, longchamp, chaussure louboutin, nike roshe, michael kors canada, air max pas cher, true religion jeans, sac louis vuitton, longchamp pas cher, hollister, michael kors uk, converse pas cher, air jordan, louis vuitton, scarpe hogan, ray ban uk, nike blazer pas cher, guess pas cher, sac vanessa bruno, hermes pas cher

 
At 9:59 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

mont blanc pens, canada goose, uggs outlet, p90x workout, reebok shoes, chi flat iron, babyliss, soccer jerseys, valentino shoes, instyler ionic styler, insanity workout, bottega veneta, north face jackets, ugg soldes, canada goose outlet, beats headphones, hollister, uggs outlet, soccer shoes, new balance outlet, asics shoes, abercrombie and fitch, mcm handbags, wedding dresses, ugg boots, canada goose outlet, lululemon outlet, ugg outlet, celine handbags, birkin bag, replica watches, nike roshe, nfl jerseys, north face jackets, vans outlet, nike trainers, ugg, ghd, ferragamo shoes, canada goose outlet, mac cosmetics, ugg boots, longchamp, giuseppe zanotti, herve leger, nike huarache, uggs on sale, jimmy choo shoes, marc jacobs outlet

 
At 10:01 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

links of london uk, swarovski jewelry, moncler, pandora uk, canada goose, supra shoes, ray ban, timberland shoes, hollister, juicy couture outlet, moncler outlet, thomas sabo uk, coach outlet, vans, gucci, hollister canada, parajumpers outlet, oakley, canada goose, moncler, swarovski uk, montre femme, louis vuitton canada, moncler, wedding dress, uggs canada, converse shoes, air max, lancel, toms outlet, juicy couture outlet, hollister clothing, moncler, baseball bats, pandora charms, louboutin, ralph lauren, replica watches, converse, ugg, moncler outlet, canada goose, karen millen, iphone 6 case, moncler, nike air max, pandora jewelry, canada goose pas cher

 
At 11:54 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

prada outlet, ray ban sunglasses, tiffany jewelry, louis vuitton, ugg boots, longchamp outlet, michael kors outlet, replica watches, louboutin outlet, nike air max, michael kors outlet, michael kors outlet, ray ban sunglasses, nike air max, uggs on sale, ugg boots, michael kors, jordan shoes, michael kors outlet, oakley sunglasses, nike outlet, tiffany and co, michael kors outlet, replica watches, longchamp, oakley sunglasses, gucci outlet, polo ralph lauren outlet, louboutin, longchamp outlet, oakley sunglasses, tory burch outlet, ugg boots, christian louboutin outlet, louboutin shoes, ugg boots, kate spade outlet, louis vuitton outlet, burberry, ray ban sunglasses, oakley sunglasses, prada handbags, louis vuitton outlet, nike free, louis vuitton, polo ralph lauren outlet

 
At 11:55 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

true religion jeans, sac longchamp, michael kors, coach outlet, longchamp pas cher, hollister, vanessa bruno, air jordan pas cher, new balance pas cher, nike free, air max, lululemon, louboutin pas cher, michael kors, mulberry, nike air max, kate spade handbags, nike free run uk, abercrombie and fitch, true religion outlet, north face, coach purses, true religion jeans, ralph lauren uk, burberry, sac guess, ralph lauren pas cher, true religion jeans, hollister pas cher, tn pas cher, hermes, nike blazer, nike air max, hogan, michael kors, north face, nike roshe, ray ban uk, coach factory outlet, lacoste pas cher, air force, michael kors, nike roshe run, converse pas cher, nike air max, oakley pas cher, timberland, coach outlet, vans pas cher, ray ban pas cher

 
At 11:57 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

celine handbags, lululemon, soccer jerseys, longchamp, asics running shoes, p90x workout, iphone 5s cases, chi flat iron, herve leger, ipad cases, mcm handbags, hollister, nike trainers, hollister, vans shoes, instyler, timberland boots, ferragamo shoes, babyliss, wedding dresses, iphone 6 plus cases, north face outlet, s5 cases, nike huarache, nfl jerseys, north face outlet, birkin bag, iphone 6 cases, valentino shoes, mac cosmetics, iphone 6s plus cases, insanity workout, bottega veneta, nike air max, new balance, giuseppe zanotti, jimmy choo shoes, ghd, louboutin, baseball bats, nike roshe, beats by dre, iphone cases, soccer shoes, oakley, reebok shoes, iphone 6s cases, mont blanc

 
At 11:59 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

moncler, replica watches, canada goose uk, louis vuitton, gucci, sac louis vuitton pas cher, ray ban, louis vuitton, moncler, pandora jewelry, montre pas cher, ugg boots uk, canada goose, doke gabbana outlet, pandora charms, swarovski crystal, canada goose outlet, pandora charms, canada goose outlet, supra shoes, doudoune canada goose, canada goose, nike air max, ugg pas cher, vans, canada goose, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, swarovski, lancel, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, hollister, canada goose, links of london, moncler, moncler, barbour jackets, louis vuitton, pandora jewelry, moncler, marc jacobs, moncler outlet, toms shoes, barbour, karen millen, converse, wedding dresses, hollister, juicy couture outlet, converse outlet, thomas sabo, bottes ugg

 
At 8:10 PM, Blogger mmjiaxin said...

polo shirts
longchamp handbags
kobe shoes
oakley sunglasses
discount oakley sunglasses
phone cases
the north face outlet
mulberry bags
ray-ban sunglasses
nike roshe
ralph lauren outlet
coach handbags outlet
oakley sunglasses wholesale
cheap ugg boots
michael kors outlet
coach outlet store
louis vuitton bags
louis vuitton outlet online
nike outlet store
michael kors outlet online
mm0112

 
At 10:05 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

oakley sunglasses, louis vuitton outlet, kate spade outlet, oakley sunglasses, burberry outlet, nike air max, louis vuitton outlet, replica watches, prada outlet, ray ban sunglasses, ray ban sunglasses, cheap oakley sunglasses, gucci handbags, replica watches, michael kors outlet, christian louboutin outlet, burberry handbags, oakley sunglasses, christian louboutin shoes, christian louboutin uk, michael kors outlet online, ray ban sunglasses, nike free, chanel handbags, louis vuitton, ugg boots, longchamp outlet, uggs outlet, jordan shoes, uggs on sale, tory burch outlet, michael kors outlet online, nike air max, polo outlet, polo ralph lauren outlet online, tiffany jewelry, longchamp outlet, oakley sunglasses wholesale, tiffany and co, nike outlet, uggs outlet, ugg boots, prada handbags, louis vuitton outlet, christian louboutin, louis vuitton, michael kors outlet online

 
At 10:08 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

north face, sac vanessa bruno, true religion jeans, michael kors, vans pas cher, nike blazer pas cher, nike roshe, kate spade, mulberry uk, air max, hollister pas cher, nike air force, oakley pas cher, true religion outlet, michael kors outlet, longchamp pas cher, nike air max uk, ray ban pas cher, abercrombie and fitch uk, nike roshe run uk, polo ralph lauren, nike tn, ralph lauren uk, nike free run, lululemon canada, guess pas cher, coach outlet, converse pas cher, hogan outlet, north face uk, hollister uk, true religion outlet, nike free uk, michael kors pas cher, timberland pas cher, coach purses, replica handbags, coach outlet store online, sac longchamp pas cher, louboutin pas cher, nike air max uk, sac hermes, burberry pas cher, michael kors, ray ban uk, new balance, polo lacoste, true religion outlet, jordan pas cher, nike air max

 
At 10:11 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

giuseppe zanotti outlet, nike air max, north face outlet, timberland boots, valentino shoes, north face outlet, babyliss, iphone 6 cases, iphone 5s cases, mac cosmetics, reebok outlet, ferragamo shoes, celine handbags, abercrombie and fitch, louboutin, nike huaraches, lululemon, soccer shoes, hollister clothing, new balance shoes, iphone 6s cases, mcm handbags, jimmy choo outlet, iphone 6s plus cases, s6 case, hermes belt, longchamp uk, ipad cases, wedding dresses, mont blanc pens, hollister, nfl jerseys, bottega veneta, iphone 6 plus cases, ghd hair, herve leger, ralph lauren, chi flat iron, instyler, p90x workout, oakley, soccer jerseys, beats by dre, nike roshe run, vans outlet, iphone cases, nike trainers uk, baseball bats, insanity workout, asics running shoes

 
At 10:13 PM, Blogger oakleyses said...

canada goose uk, supra shoes, pandora jewelry, louis vuitton, canada goose, thomas sabo, toms shoes, barbour uk, barbour, hollister, pandora jewelry, wedding dresses, canada goose, moncler outlet, canada goose outlet, moncler, canada goose jackets, juicy couture outlet, coach outlet, marc jacobs, moncler outlet, links of london, louis vuitton, replica watches, louis vuitton, ugg,ugg australia,ugg italia, karen millen uk, ugg, montre pas cher, pandora uk, canada goose outlet, ugg pas cher, doke gabbana, ray ban, converse outlet, converse, lancel, swarovski crystal, moncler, vans, ugg,uggs,uggs canada, pandora charms, juicy couture outlet, ugg uk, louis vuitton, doudoune moncler, swarovski, hollister, gucci, canada goose outlet, nike air max, moncler

 

Post a Comment

<< Home