Personal Effects: The Social Character of Scholarly Writing

Personal Effects: The Social Character of Scholarly Writing

Personal Effects: The Social Character of Scholarly Writing

Personal Effects: The Social Character of Scholarly Writing

Excerpt

In the 1996 issue of PMLA considering “the personal” in scholarship, Michael Bérubé suggests that scholarly use of personal narrative represents “some kind of generic violation of scholarship in the human sciences.” But he concludes that “as long as the scholarship in question concerns humans and is written by humans, readers should at least entertain the possibility that nothing human should be alien to it.” This conclusion, so self-evident, is only now becoming acceptable in the humanities—that is, to admit the full range of human experience into formal scholarly writing.

The study of language and literature without reference to its roles in scholars’ lives and communities has been the most common academic practice; such study is also academic in the pejorative sense of its being “not practical” or moot or removed from real life. The adjective “academic” has meant, among other things, that scholarly writing about language and literature assumes that the subjectivity and social memberships of scholars are not factors in their humanistic knowledge in the same sense as physical scientists assume that their subjectivities are not factors in their knowledge of science. Because humanists have used the scientific sense of objectivity to conceptualize their own work, and because humanistic scholarship does not have as great an economic and physical consequence as science, humanities have come to seem less important as subject matters than science, law, or business.

This volume collects essays that, taken together, try to show how fundamental it is in humanistic scholarship to take account, in a variety of ways and as part of the subject matter, of the personal and collective experiences of scholars, researchers, critics, and teachers. The volume advances the view that humanistic inquiry can not develop successfully at this time without reference to the varieties of subjective, intersubjective, and collective experience of teachers and researchers. We of course do not think that such reference is a requirement or that it should appear in every study; rather, that regardless of the announced level of subjective involvement of the scholarly author, both authors and readers need to have on their hermeneutic agenda, as readers and as writers, the task of locating scholarly authors through personal and social . . .

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