Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview

Epilogue

Harvesting the Humanities

The profession of literary criticism at the end of the twentieth century is one in which every four hours, someone sits down to write a little brief on the function of criticism at the present time, or on what the humanities are for, or on how criticism was once powerful back in the days when it was done right. And yet few among of the public seem to have any idea what we're talking about. What might education in the humanities entail? Why might it matter whether one subscribes to one view of this education or another, Allan Bloom's or Henry Louis Gates's, Lynne Cheney's or mine? The bulk of the answers we've gotten so far indicates that most nonacademics don't have the faintest idea, even when they profess to care at all. The optimistic tone of some of the essays in this book may suggest to some of my readers that I write in deliberate ignorance of these answers, that I'm repressing or suppressing what I know about the unintelligibility of even our (or my) most 'accessible' work. As it happens, I'm reminded of the tenuous nature of 'public access' quite as often as any professional critic. But these reminders don't make me give up on the enterprise.

At the 1993 convention of the Midwest Modern Language Association, for instance, I was to deliver a paper called 'Postmodern Humanities: All Access, All Areas', wherein I noted, among other things, the public resistance to 'specialization' and 'professionalization' in the humanities as opposed to the sciences, which are usually given wide leeway in the hope that they will get us to the moon and put Tang on our breakfast tables. (That resistance, as we know, often takes the form of mockery of outlandish topics and paper tides at the MLAs annual convention.) My panel, organized by John Mowitt, was tided 'The Humanities and Public Accountability', so I figured it was appropriate for me to talk about how scholars in the humanities are expected to be accountable to damn near everyone for the content of their work. Fellow panelist Gerald Graff, how

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Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction American Political Culture and Cultural Politics 1
  • Part I - PC and the Humanities 41
  • 1 - Discipline and Theory 43
  • Notes 58
  • 2 - Winning Hearts and Minds 59
  • 3 - Exigencies of Value 87
  • Notes 112
  • Part II - Critical Theory in the Public Sphere 117
  • 4 - Just the Fax, Ma'Am: Or, Postmodernism's Journey to Decenter 119
  • Notes 133
  • 5 - Pop Goes the Academy: Cult Studs Fight the Power 137
  • Notes 159
  • 6 - Bite Size Theory: Popularizing Academic Criticism 161
  • Part III - At the Closing of the American Century 179
  • 7 - Paranoia in a Vacuum: 2001 and the National Security State 181
  • Notes 200
  • 8 - It's Renaissance Time: New Historicism, American Studies, and American Identity 203
  • Notes 222
  • 9 - Disuniting America Again 225
  • Epilogue 243
  • Notes 266
  • Index 269
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