Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

Synopsis

In the years of the Reagan-Bush era, the controversy over "political correctness" erupted on American campuses, spreading to the mainstream media as right-wing pundits like Dinesh D'Souza and Roger Kimball prosecuted their publicity campaign against progressive academics. Michael Bérubé's brilliant new book explains how and why the political correctness furore emerged, and how the right's apparent stranglehold on popular opinion about the academy can be loosened.

Traversing the terrain of contemporary cultural criticism, Bérubé examines the state of cultural studies, the significance of postmodernism, the continuing debate over multicultural curricula, and the recent revisions of literary history in American studies. Also included is Bérubé's witty and self-deprecating autobiographical reflection on why interpretive theory has emerged as an indispensable part of education in the humanities over the past decade.

Public Access insists that academics must exercise more responsibility towards the publics who underwrite but often misunderstand their work and its significance. Taken seriously as a potential audience, Bérubé argues, such publics can be weaned from their present inclination to believe the distortions and half-truths peddled by the right's ideologues. The goal of such "public access" criticism is not just a better environment for teachers and scholars, but a world in which education itself achieves its proper place in a society committed to equality of opportunity and true critical thinking.