Queries for the 'Queering' of Academe; A Few Young Subversives Are Lurking in the Ivy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 5, 2006 | Go to article overview

Queries for the 'Queering' of Academe; A Few Young Subversives Are Lurking in the Ivy


Byline: Suzanne Fields, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

While most of us were opening the last of our "holiday" presents, basking in the glow of Lancome's "multi-defense protective tinted cream," or deciding whether to wear the new tie with prancing horses or the one with intertwined golf clubs, several hundred Nervous Nellies and Fearful Freddies, many with newly minted Ph.Ds in hand, were busy networking, i.e., job-hunting, at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in Washington.

This meant sitting through days of seminars on subjects of interest only to the authors of the learned papers. (Who else could understand what they were talking about?) Their parents had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to educate them, incurring loans putting them deep in debt for decades, and it was time to shed the cap and gown and look for work. The politically incorrect graduates who don't conform to the unstated but clearly implied correct color have to work hardest to find jobs. That's particularly true for white candidates who majored in black studies. How can a white man teach black literature?

Of course, at most professional conventions, whether of accountants, plumbers, dermatologists or hip-hoppers, the range runs from dull to boring to shocking. But MLA conventions are unusual, if not unique. Nick Gillespie, the editor of Reason magazine who has attended MLA sessions as both member and reporter, observes that "there are few collective groups more insufferable than humanities professors." (Gulp. Full disclosure here: When I was a card-carrying liberal in an earlier century I earned my Ph.D with a dissertation exploring "realism and allegory in the early plays of Harold Pinter.") The graying profs were particularly frightened this year by the news, as one professor after another told ghost stories at the bar if not around a campfire, that more and more conservative kids are arriving on campus, ready to argue.

Tenured professors are hysterical (a good "gendering" word) over the rise of the right on the campus, of students who aren't buying into lesbian literature, identity politics, deconstructionism, feminism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, Marxism, gay culturalism and all the other -isms that have dominated the curriculum for the generation since the '60s. Assumptions are under siege.

One seminar, examining the image of professors in the media culture, asked the question: "Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things about Us?" Why indeed? The profs have been difficult to take seriously since the New York Times published a list of their goofiest scholarly papers in 1989, including such intellectual gems as "Jane Austen and the Masturbating Girl," and exposed the obfuscating jargon that was more like kitty litter than ideas, littering conversations with such phrases as "transgressive discourses," "systems of stratification" and "culturally over-determined structures of seeing. …

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Queries for the 'Queering' of Academe; A Few Young Subversives Are Lurking in the Ivy
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