The Condition of English: Literary Studies in a Changing Culture

The Condition of English: Literary Studies in a Changing Culture

The Condition of English: Literary Studies in a Changing Culture

The Condition of English: Literary Studies in a Changing Culture

Synopsis

Now that the "political correctness" controversy has cooled, a time for sober reflection on the field of English has arrived. In this insightful overview of English, and of literary studies, Fleishman employs both historical perspective and pragmatic sense about choices for the future. His approach is to apply recent strategies of contextual understanding to English itself. What can a class analysis tell us about the influence on the profession of the changing American socioeconomic system? What are the likely intellectual and professional outcomes of the curricular embrace of minority literatures, neglected authors, and popular culture? Beyond stimulating self-evaluation by English educators, this study prepares readers outside the field to selectively encourage new curricular and methodological opportunities.

Excerpt

The study of letters shall be no longer a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual indulgence.

--Emerson

Political correctness (PC) has come and gone--the slogan, that is, as an effective political weapon. Whatever realities it pointed to are still with us, but in muted form. Conservative commentators have turned to meatier game, while defenders of the academy, after making light of the charges, are now seeing the effects of an altered climate of opinion. Their response, when it has not been gestural--an I-told-you-so shrug or an embittered expletive--has taken foreseeable forms. For those like the mercurial Stanley Fish in Professional Correctness (1995), after long stirring the pot in a variety of trendy causes, it is time to renew respectability by returning to the interpretation of individual texts--shades of the New Criticism. For others, like the newly radicalized deconstructionist J. Hillis Miller, writing in Profession96, a Modern Language Association journal, the scene is a darkened one of "corporate" (read: capitalist) resistance to avant-garde teachings, which takes the form of financial cutbacks and resulting unemployment.

On this latter cruel fact all can agree: in the mid-1990s the Modern Language Association was reporting that fewer than half the new Ph.D.s in English and other literatures were finding tenure-track positions. Although behavioral causes of this condition have yet to be ascertained, sustained scrutiny is hin-

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