Establishing Shot: Academics of the New Class
Our men of letters . . . shaped the national temperament and outlook on life. . . . What seems particularly odd is that while retaining habits thus derived from books, we have almost completely lost our former love of literature.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville
In the waning days of the political correctness controversy, it may not be too late to ask why it was that English, of all fields, should have been the one to draw so much of the fire and mount so much of the defense. An intuitive grasp of academe might have anticipated that political science, sociology, or some other real-world-oriented discipline would be the one(s) to show polarization, a politicizing of the subject matter, or other ideological disturbance. (Sociology has indeed been an occasional battleground in the academic culture wars, from the effort to expel a leading educational researcher, James Coleman, from its professional association in 1975 to the appearance of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's The Bell Curve in 1994.) It is true that the annual conventions of other fields are well covered by satirical newshounds on alert for risible topics showing the absurdities of abstruse research. However, anthropology and history cannot match English for entries like "Pederasty, Domesticity and Capitalism in Horatio Alger" or "Treason Our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon." And it is only the Modern Language Association that feels called upon to assure the world that the basics are still being taught, despite the disdain for "great works" by its more strident members.