Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview
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1 Discipline and Theory

Scorn the sort now growing up All out of shape from toe to top. W. B. Yeats

It's a beastly rough crowd I run with. No doubt about it, junior faculty are getting out of shape and out of hand. 'The grimmest and most orthodox partisans of "politically correct thinking",' writes Louis Menand in the New Yorker, 'are junior professors, most of whom are under forty and many of whom are under thirty.'1 Mind you, this line doesn't come from George Will or Lynne Cheney or any of the usual suspects who routinely accuse us of being gleeful nihilists and/or humorless ideologues; it comes from the pen of a fellow English professor, a guy who's been one of the sharpest critics of Dinesh D'Souza, Roger Kimball and the rest of the purveyors of PC polemics. Even to the enemy of our enemies, it seems, we look something like a cross between Johnny Rotten and Cotton Mather: just take the Sex Pistols' political tact and respect for authority, toss in the Puritans' good cheer and sense of rhythm, and presto, you've got Rotten Mather, assistant professor of English, thirty years old and not to be trusted.

How did I let myself in for this? I'm not sure. Applying to graduate school in English, ten years ago, was as much the result of a process of elimination as of a positive decision: I had already worked in journalism and advertising during college, and didn't much like what I'd seen. Law paid notoriously well, but I knew from proofreading and word processing at one of the country's largest law firms that law generally isn't much fun to read or write. Besides, it was 1981, the lawyer glut was upon us, and the competition promised to be intense and nasty. I didn't think resignation or ambivalence would get me very far.

-43-

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