Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics

By Michael Bérubé | Go to book overview

action' programs in the country is the system of legacies, thanks to which the children of these alumni are now given preferential treatment in college admissions. Here too, it's not that universities don't have what D'Souza thinks of as 'standards of merit'; it's that the social and cultural bases of those standards have changed drastically.

This is not simply an academic discussion of the shifting sands of time. The reason these questions of value and merit come before us with such exigency, the reason we need so desperately to be able to take our case to the public and to the literary public sphere, is that we are facing a drastic shrinking of resources, the defunding of the humanities, the wholesale elimination of entire academic programs and departments that aren't directly helping us compete with Japan. And I believe that our chances, in the humanities, of withstanding this defunding and this retrenchment depend largely on our ability to recognize and to win new constituencies among aspiring educators and professionals, new constituencies on the progressive-but-not-poststructuralist left, and, not least of these, new constituencies in what we must help to make a broader and more diverse public sphere. However arcane and 'theoretical' some of its manifestations may seem to be, therefore, the struggle over the university is a struggle in which liberals, centrists and progressives, inside or outside the universities, have a civic obligation to engage.

Dinesh D'Souza, Falwell: Before the Millennium ( Chicago: Regnery-Gateway 1984); Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, hereafter cited in the text as IE. Before the Falwell book is consigned to the ash-heap of history, it's worth looking at - as a period piece of far-right optimism in 1984, and as an index of how far D'Souza will go to curry favor with extremists in the interest of self-advancement. ' Falwell has altered the terms of political discourse in this country', concludes D'Souza. 'Today he sets the agenda.... He has successfully made himself the spokesman for moral America.... Listening to Falwell speak, one gets a sense that something is right about America, after all' (pp. 194, 205).
See Chester E. Finn, "The Campus: An Island of Repression in a Sea of Freedom", Commentary, vol. 88, no. 3 ( 1989), pp. 17-23. Finn attributes the line to Abigail Thernstrom; Peter Collier and David Horowitz, in "PC Coverup", Heterodoxy, vol. 1, no. 1 ( 1992), pp. 11-12, attribute it to Jeane Kirkpatrick. The confusion as to who actually coined the phrase is doubtless due to the fact that all card-carrying neocons were required to repeat it at one point or another during the 1980s.
See, e.g., Dinesh D'Souza, "P.C. So Far", Commentary, vol. 92, vol. 4 ( 1991), pp. 44-7; Collier and Horowitz, 'PC Coverup', pp. 1, 11-12.
Eugene Genovese, "Religious Foundations of the Constitution", Reviews in American History, vol. 19 ( 1991), p. 338; review of Ellis Sandoz, A Government of Laws: Political Theory, Religion, and the American Founding ( Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1990).
For a compelling and well-documented account of how McCarthyite persecution proceeded in higher education, see Ellen W. Schrecker, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and theUniversities


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Public Access: Literary Theory and American Cultural Politics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction American Political Culture and Cultural Politics 1
  • Part I - PC and the Humanities 41
  • 1 - Discipline and Theory 43
  • Notes 58
  • 2 - Winning Hearts and Minds 59
  • 3 - Exigencies of Value 87
  • Notes 112
  • Part II - Critical Theory in the Public Sphere 117
  • 4 - Just the Fax, Ma'Am: Or, Postmodernism's Journey to Decenter 119
  • Notes 133
  • 5 - Pop Goes the Academy: Cult Studs Fight the Power 137
  • Notes 159
  • 6 - Bite Size Theory: Popularizing Academic Criticism 161
  • Part III - At the Closing of the American Century 179
  • 7 - Paranoia in a Vacuum: 2001 and the National Security State 181
  • Notes 200
  • 8 - It's Renaissance Time: New Historicism, American Studies, and American Identity 203
  • Notes 222
  • 9 - Disuniting America Again 225
  • Epilogue 243
  • Notes 266
  • Index 269


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