Academic journal article German Quarterly

Credibility: The Next Challenge Responses to Katherine Arens

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Credibility: The Next Challenge Responses to Katherine Arens

Article excerpt


University of Arizona

The challenge posed by KatherineArens is most welcome, and it is one that every scholar/scientist must face from time to time to revisit the fundamental principles of his/her work in methodological and philosophical terms. She rightly emphasizes two most troublesome aspects in postmodern literary scholarship: first, increasingly scholars resort to and rely on theoretical approaches as a support for their own work without checking the validity of those theories. second, they address topics far outside the traditional scope of literary scholarship and still claim authority without having consulted the relevant scholarship in those respective fields or without having gained the necessary academic training.

But this is not unique to literary scholarship. The same holds true for many other academic disciplines. The sociologist Norbert Elias (Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation, 1939) left a deep impact on modern scholarship, but he hardly read any of his literary sources the way we now would. The anthropologist Hans Peter Duerr (Nacktheit und Scham, 1988), arguing vehemently against him, draws widely from literary and art-historical evidence, offering, however, rather flimsy and not reliable theses. Edward Said's famous Orientalism (1978) now turns out to be of rather disputable quality (see Ibn Warraq, Defending the West, 2007); and the paradigm created by the historian Philippe Aries (L'Enfant et la vie familiale sous l'ancien régime, 1960), according to which there was no sense of childhood until ca. 1800, has been deconstructed only recently (Nicholas Orme, Medieval Children, 2001).

Moreover, the problems that Arens observes are not new ones at all, particularly when we consider cultural studies published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Myths have always proven to enjoy more longevity and durability than (self-)critical scholarship, and this both within the world of religion and politics, and recently also in pseudo sciences (Creative Design; see Daniel Anlezark, Water and Fire, 2006). Paradigms come and go, and so do theories and methodologies. However, they are the necessary engines that drive the slow-moving machine of research and scholarship, forcing us to revisit the canon, our approaches, tools, and methods over and over again. The history of mentality, for instance, has demonstrated that we continue to gain new insights and broaden our scope of understanding of past and present cultures, literatures, and the arts by means of theoretical innovations and the incorporation of new sources and perspectives outside the narrow field of our expertise.

The challenge is on, and Arens's discussion of this crisis is certainly important, but there is no need to despair as long as we continue to embrace the principles of peer-review, scholarly honesty, critical acumen, and the constant endeavor to base our conclusions on as broad a basis as possible, which certainly should also tear down the somewhat outdated walls of our canons and disciplines.


University of Alabama in Huntsville

Katherine Arens rightly insists that academic credibility, among other things, presupposes solid familiarity with the disciplines from which one borrows sources, methods, and insights. But ultimately, her generalized denunciation of (French) theory and cultural studies lacks credibility itself. Arens claims that the "new scholarship" produces "all too often a kind of new journalism" characterized primarily by mere "tastes," "rhetorical verve," and even "blissful ignorance." This charge may perhaps apply to specific instances of questionable scholarship (she cites only one presumed culprit, the reception of Kristeva's Revolution in Poetic Language by U.S. feminist critics), but her totalizing polemic does not do justice to the complex mechanisms of knowledge transfer that inform the considerable range of interdisciplinarity today.

What legitimates this type of inquiry is not primarily the internal state of scholarship in history, cultural geography, and anthropology, etc. …

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