Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

In Defense of Cultural Studies

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

In Defense of Cultural Studies

Article excerpt

"Those Who Disdain Cultural Studies Don't Know What They're Talking About" by Rita Felski, in The Chronicle of Higher Education (July 23, 1999), 1255 23rd St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037.

Ever since physicist Alan Sokal smuggled his deliberately nonsensical essay (in which he solemnly maintained, among other things, that physical reality is "a social and linguistic construct") into the cultural studies movement's premier journal, Social Text, a few years ago, cultural studies has come to seem, well, a bit passe. Felski, an English professor at the University of Virginia, rises in defense of the relatively new (but now apparently "old") interdisciplinary field.

Cultural studies, she complains, has come to be simply a term of abuse - shorthand for taking a political approach to literature. And as such, it is rejected by critics who want "a return to aesthetics in literature.... They want to talk about language, style, and sensibility, about why they love poetry and what makes Shakespeare a great writer."

But cultural studies "has always been concerned with language and form," Felski contends. "It is just as much about the aesthetic dimension of the social world as it is about the social dimension of a work of art." The discipline, which originated in England in the 1960s, treated culture anthropologically, "seeking to make sense of the entire range of symbolic practices, texts, and belief systems in society rather than equating culture exclusively with high art. …

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