Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

The Forty on Forty Project

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

The Forty on Forty Project

Article excerpt

In celebrating forty years of publishing history, the Co-Editors of ESC decided to initiate what is either an exercise in free-form, collaborative narration or an inductive experiment with few controls. Approaching forty scholars in a diverse sampling, we have asked them to identify, in no more than 150 words, a work, idea, or event of the past forty years that has been key to the project of literary, cultural, and theoretical inquiry. The objective at stake in such invitation is arguably cartographic: to map the contours of the field we inhabit, with ESC as sextant. Or perhaps the journal plays the double role of thermometer and aneroid monitor, taking the discipline's temperature and pulse all at once. Preferred metaphor notwithstanding, the resulting responses vividly capture the dynamic energies and complex torsions rippling through our discipline over the last four decades and impelling its future horizons. And they do so not least by ranging widely: our contributors point not only to creative endeavour, critical polemic, and theoretical sway, to landmark collectivities and epochal events, but also to entanglements, tendencies, sentiments, and atmospherics, the seemingly less solid but no less real and material relations that produce tangible, long-reverberating effects. A decade ago, ESC celebrated its thirtieth anniversary by revisiting Raymond Williams's Keywords for a new disciplinary era. Ten years on, we look instead to galvanizing or groundbreaking occurrences during the journal's lifespan that, by setting terms or changing terms, forged keywords we did not know we needed yet could not, in retrospect, have done without. Perhaps what emerges emphatically here is the embrace of multiplicity--the entries indexing dynamic interplay and critical interanimation over mere preference. That, and the reminder that productive tensions and mutually enabling postures remain very much in play in what is a grand, collective, always unfolding project.

Walter Benn Michaels



University of Illinois at Chicago

An Interesting Scholarly Problem

If only ESC had been founded ten years earlier, identifying the scholarly event that has had the most impact on literary studies during its lifetime would be easy--the 1966 conference at Johns Hopkins that announced the arrival of "theory" If only the event didn't have to be scholarly, it would be easier still. In the U.S., 1975 was the last year that the income growth of the top 5 percent didn't outpace everyone else's. Ever since then (with a pause for breath during the Great Recession) income inequality has grown (although in Canada, the 1970s didn't get started until the 1990s). If we put these two events together--the end of postwar equality and the beginning of poststructuralist theory--we don't exactly get a work or idea but we do get an interesting scholarly problem: understanding how literary studies (and the very idea of cultural studies) have played handmaiden to neoliberalism.

Diana Brydon

Canada Research Chair in Globalization and Cultural Studies

English, Film, and Theatre

University of Manitoba

Ngugi wa Thiongo "On the Abolition of the English Department" (1972)

In 1972, Ngugi wa Thiong'o published "On the Abolition of the English Department" It inspired postcolonial students of English to rethink the practices of our discipline before Edward Said popularized attention to the geopolitics of the disciplines in Orientalism (1978). Ngugi offered a choice between an additive model of literary study centred on perpetuating the myths of empire and one that re-conceptualized curriculum from the ground up, starting from the place where readers are located and working outward toward the world and backward through history from there. For Canadians, Ngugi's challenge meant addressing the complicity of the disciplines in promoting Canadian settler colonialism in ways now being revisited through the challenge issued by the 2015 Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. …

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