Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview

more than that: not just clockwatchers, but people capable of envisioning -and creating-the coalitions that can turn the century. To have a chance of reaching those people we have to open the public access channel, and we may occasionally have to get textual and ludic about the enterprise: after all, one reason most folks don't do critical reading is that they're too busy punching the clock. For those potential readers, cultural criticism can do cultural work only if it's both critical and entertaining - that is, if it isn't more 'work'. So if cultural critics are going to help people tell time and turn the century, then at some point, it seems, we may have to learn to conduct ourselves as if it were 1999.


Notes
1.
Gerald Graff, 'The Unintelligibility of the Humanities', paper delivered at the annual convention of the Midwest Modern Language Association, 6 November 1993, p. 1.
2.
Bruce Robbins, Secular Vocations ( London: Verso, 1993), pp. 84-117. For my more extended (but still brief) take on Secular Vocations see 'Egghead Salad', Village Voice Literary Supplement, no. 121 ( December 1993), pp. 29-30.
2.
Hence, to return to an issue I broached in Chapter 5, 'Pop Goes the Academy', Constance Penley's uneasiness about the relations between fans and academics, and her relation to herself as academic and as fan.
4.
Each of these wonderful testimonies to the publicness of academic work is available in your local library, unless your locals have banned The Source for its connection to rap (aka violence). Stacey D'Erasmo, "The Gay Nineties: In Schools Across the Country, Gay Studies is Coming on Strong'", Rolling Stone, 3 October 1991, pp. 83-7, 130; Dan Zevin, "Dancing in the Seats: Roll Over Beethoven, the Professors of Pop Have Arrived'", Rolling Stone, 17 September 1992, pp. 83-8, and Elizabeth Tippins, "Mastering Madonna'", Rolling Stone, 17 September 1992, pp. 89, 111; Michael Eric Dyson, Rolling Stone, 28 October 1993, pp. 75-6; David Rakoff, review of Alphabet Man, Details ( October 1993), p. 189. For the review of Houston Baker Black Studies, Rap, and the Academy, see Bill Martin, "Connecting the Black Dots'", The Source ( September 1993), p. 26.
5.
Editorial, "Shakespeare for Mere Mortals'", New York Times, 3 September 1993, p. A22.
6.
David Bromwich, Politics by Other Means ( New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press), p. 46; hereafter cited in the text.
7.
David Denby, "Does Homer Have Legs?'" New Yorker, 6 September 1993, pp. 52-69. Denby's article is engaging and broad-minded, yet marred by its reliance on Searlean caricatures of the cultural left as a bunch of folks who want to banish Homer for his glorification of war and his treatment of women as items of exchange. What the upstarts among the cultural left at Columbia had been saying about the core curriculum, in fact, is that in enormous survey courses, it's impossible to teach literary works in their cultural context, as complex conversations with their day and ours, the way we think they ought to be taught. The core course, unfortunately, practically forces one to teach a bunch of masterpieces in chronological order and nothing else, and most responsible teachers who've had the experience will' admit that it's not unlike rushing a tour group through a museum.
8.
J. R. R. Tolkien, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics'" [ 1936], in R. D. Fulk, ed., Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology ( Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 36.
9.
M. H. Abrams et al., eds, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, 5th edn ( New York: Norton, 1986), p. 26.

-266-

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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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