Tracking Shot: Origins and Outcomes
Why did the old Folly end now, and no later? Why did the modern Wisdom begin now, and no sooner? What were we the worse for the former Folly? What the better for the succeeding Wisdom?
It may strike the educated laypublic as odd that so apparently benign a subject as English has become one of the most embattled sectors of the academic world. When the hard sciences experience sharp changes in knowledge paradigms, even when the social sciences engage in conflicts tinged with ideology, they display competition and disagreement but not the separate spheres that currently divide English. Whether the lay observer judges from New York Times reports of the high political voltage at Modern Language Association (MLA) conventions, from the overcharged critiques in neoconservative journals, or from the profession's own rebuttals of the stigma of political correctness, the public perception is of a corner of the academy awash in ideology. But a participant's view is even more unsettling. It is of a field divided not merely by rarified specialization in subject matter and disjunctive theoretical approaches--scholarly practices that may nonetheless prove beneficial for discovery and insight--but also along generational, cultural, and even class lines.
More than most others, English departments contain people who fail to understand their colleagues' way of thinking and in some cases cannot abide it. While many academic fields have been sharply altered by changes in discovery