“Higher” Education is a relative term
WSJ article on “What Killed American Lit.” The contributors to “The American Novel” demonstrate part of the problem.
Biographical notes on contributors speak of their concern with “forms of moral personhood in the US novels,” “the poetics of foreign policy,” and “ecocriticism and theories of modernization, postmodernization, and globalization.”
All which make for a dull read, if you ask me. English professors are more interested in the politics of the books read and written, than the quality of the prose.
If one is still looking for that living relic, the fully subscribed Marxist, one is today less likely to find him in an Economics or History Department than in an English Department, where he will still be taken seriously. He finds a home there because English departments are less concerned with the consideration of literature per se than with what novels, poems, plays and essays—after being properly X-rayed, frisked, padded down, like so many suspicious-looking air travelers—might yield on the subjects of race, class and gender. “How would [this volume] be organized,” one of its contributors asks, “if race, gender, disability, and sexuality were not available?”
But, its more than this. Of course. The true downfall of American literature occurred when criticism no longer saw their job as one of protecting us from the inferior novel. What a novel said, about culture, or politics, became important.
Multiculturalism, which assigned an equivalence of value to the works of all cultures, irrespective of the quality of those works, finished off the distinction between high and low culture, a distinction whose linchpin was seriousness.
Who are the best American novelists? Well, that is, of course, relative. There is no consensus, and everything is fit to teach in a college classroom.
With the gates once carefully guarded by the centurions of high culture now flung open, the barbarians flooded in, and it is they who are running the joint today. The most lauded novelists in “The Cambridge History of the American Novel” tend to be those, in the words of another of its contributors, who are “staging a critique of ‘America’ and its imperial project.” Thus such secondary writers as Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and E.L. Doctorow are in these pages vaunted well beyond their literary worth.
And thus, you have English majors who graduated for college after being steeped, for four years, in anti-Americanism.
A stranger, freshly arrived from another planet, if offered as his introduction to the United States only this book, would come away with a picture of a country founded on violence and expropriation, stoked through its history by every kind of prejudice and class domination, and populated chiefly by one or another kind of victim, with time out only for the mental sloth and apathy brought on by life lived in the suburbs and the characterless glut of American late capitalism.
And what has this done to the student who declares himself an “English major”? Well, it’s fallen from 7.6% of the undergraduates to 3.9%. If you are a lover of good literature, and you end up reading Ginsberg and Doctorow … you’re going to be disappointed that you’re actually PAYING for this “education.”
So, what is the freshman at University of Michigan going to see in their English class?
English 124- College Writing: Writing and Literature.
In this introductory literature course, we’ll use the most effective (and pleasant) way to learn about writing: reading wonderful literature. We’ll analyze and discuss poetry and fiction in order to discover how authors make meaning and affect us through their prose. Though we’ll consider primarily creative writing, your own writing will be analytical in nature, making this a useful stepping-stone for students who may major in the humanities.
Most of our texts will come from the late 20th century. Samples of texts that we might consider: poems by Frank O’Hara, Anne Carson, and Jay-Z; a popular novel such as Jane Austen and Seth Graham-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; and fiction from the Best American Short Stories series.
Jay-Z? Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? At U of M. Also listed as require textbooks is the Y/A novel (that would be young adult) “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins.