Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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While I admit a certain crossover of disciplines--history being taught via Epic of Gilgamesh and Candide, for example--I, as an older student, was upset by the political overtones in almost every college course except those mathematical. There is a problem however in teaching a specific period of literature without acknowledging the forces of politics and society that drove the times and affected the vast majority of the writings. But isn't the focusing on political or cultural atmosphere of a piece of work a particular critical theory, like New Historicism or some such thing, and should be viewed just as one of many approaches?

Dan Green

"There is a problem however in teaching a specific period of literature without acknowledging the forces of politics and society"

This would be "historical literacy," not "political literacy" of the sort those on this panel are talking about. Historical literacy is a good thing to have, and in some cases certainly enhances one's understanding of literary texts, but I would still argue that this sort of literacy is not absolutely required for literary study to be worthwhile. "Acknowledging" historical forces is not the same thing as making those forces the primary object of interest. Texts that can only be understood or appreciated historically no longer have strictly "literary" value at all.


I'm certainly all for literary appreciation for its own sake alone, and agree that it need not have political, historical, cultural, feminist, philosophical, etc. aspects investigated to be worthwhile study. I believe that all these theories of analysis enhance, as you say, the understanding, and could/should be taught as the variety of ways of looking at literature. History is strongly influenced by political environment, and I take it as an integral part of its progress. And of course, not all literature is influenced by politics, nor an author's intent to make a statement, thank God.

R A Rubin

Wasn't Ellison a rather conservative fellow compared to the Black Power rabble rousers. I think they considered him a Uncle Tom. Chambers was a conservative after a fling with running a communist cell. Anyhow, they are of the same stripe, Conservative in their maturity, so there was no Left-Right argument there.


Amen, amen, amen. I dropped out of grad school 10 years ago and never got my long-dreamed-of Ph.D. because I was so fed up with the politicization of everything in English Studies. For a long time, I thought I was alone in my resistance to it because so many other grad students just seemed to accept it in order to have respect and jobs. It was profoundly disappointing to me, someone who loved literature and wanted to study it for its own sake, to find that literary studies had been taken hostage by a bunch of angry people who were more interested in (mostly far-left) politics than in literature. They seemed to view literature as merely a convenient tool for political argument, and not as valid thing in itself.

Trent Walters


You'll be happy to note that I think Salman Rushdie agrees--at least, that's my surmising from reading Shalimar the Clown. There's a great passage in there about how hair and chicken broth is political.


Jonathan Mayhew

Salma Hayek! That's what we need more of. Less Foucault and more Hayek.

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