About Daniel Green
Daniel Green was an English professor for 15 years, but left academe for the good of all concerned. He still monitors developments in academic criticism and writes the occasional scholarly essay, but has mostly concentrated lately on general interest essays, reviews, and criticism, to be found in a variety of publications, both print and online. He also writes fiction and maintains a literary weblog called The Reading Experience.
Posts by Daniel Green
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
Responding to Lee Siegel’s assertion that “Nowadays, often even the most accomplished novels offer characters that are little more than flat, ghostly reflections of characters. The author’s voice, or self-consciousness about voice, substitutes mere eccentricity for an imaginative surrender to another life,” Maud Newton further describes the way in which she decided to focus her own attention on “books that delve into a character’s thoughts and motivations and idiosyncratic take on the world.” Both Maud and Siegel are expressing a preference for “psychological realism” (a preference also shared by the literary critic James Wood, among others), an approach to the writing of fiction that perhaps gained its initial impetus in the late work of Henry James, but that probably became most identified with the work of such modernists as Joyce or Woolf.Continue reading "Psychological Realism"
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Poetry Under Attack
Contemporary poets have been taking quite a beating lately. First there’s Foetry.com, the self-appointed “American Poetry Watchdog” whose proprietor, Alan Cordle, has been “tracking the sycophants” and “naming names” in his ongoing battle against poetry contests he deems corrupt because many of them award their prizes to “inside” candidates, some of them former students of the contests’ judges. Among those on Foetry’s hit list are poets such as Jorie Graham, Charles Wright, and David Lehman, as well as contests such as the Iowa Poetry Prize and the Bakeless Prize. Cordle had announced that he was shutting down the website when he was outed as its mastermind, but he has now apparently decided to keep it going. (It turns out that his chief motivation was revenge on behalf of his wife: “I did this because I have been so saddened and angered over the years to see her enter these competitions, only to have prizes awarded to friends and students of judges.")Continue reading "Poetry Under Attack"
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Crossing the Jordan
Jerome McGann argues in the latest issue of New Literary History that “scholars are producing larger and larger amounts of scholarship and passing it to a delivery system with diminishing capacities to sustain its publication.” Further:
But that is to speak only of book publication. We should be aware that a parallel problem, every bit as acute, exists for periodical publication, where a similar dysfunction can be observed. In each of these cases the university library has become almost the only reliable purchaser of scholarly books and periodicals; and every year, as we know, library funds for such materials get cut further.
McGann thinks the solution to this problem is obvious:
. . .online scholarly publication is the natural and inevitable response to this general problem of scholarly and educational communication. How to bring about the transition to online publication is the $64,000 question. . .The Jordan will not be crossed until scholars and educators are prepared not simply to access archived materials online--which is increasingly done--but to publish and to peer-review online--to carry out the major part of our productive educational work in digital forms.
If McGann is correct--and I think he is, despite the resistance of, as McGann puts it, the “known scholar,” who “can still, usually, get his or her work published in the usual paper-based ways"--how will this change the conventions of literary scholarship? Will the monograph and journal article simply be transferred to cyberspatial publication, scholarly apparatus fully intact, or will the differing demands of digital publication cause academic criticism to trim its sails somewhat, perhaps in a salutary way? Might the greater access online pubication makes possible (at least potentially) in the long run produce “academic” writing that those outside the academy might also want to read? What might be the role of blogs in hastening this transition? Clearly enough The Valve (as well as, say, Crooked Timber and Cliopatria) is itself a sign that a form of scholarly discourse is possible online. How far can this be taken?
Our own Miriam Burstein remarked in a post last year at Cliopatria that “academic blogs are conducive to conversation--dialogue about this point or that--but, really, are they good for developing extensive and in-depth arguments on significant topics?” But perhaps rather than blogs adapting to “extensive and in-depth arguments,” it will have to be the other way around? Our notions of what such an argument ought to be like (how in-depth is “in-depth”?) may have to change. Besides, if the current versions of this kind of scholarly argument can’t be published anyway, what’s the choice?
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Responding to my previous post, the weblog Left Center Left suggests
that literary scholars are in fact enthusiastic about literature. They may wear their disinterested deconstructive or historicist hats in their academic work, but you don’t have to scratch far beneath the surface (a few glasses of wine help) to discover that indeed the “radical” literary scholar believes that canonical literature is indeed a far more worthwhile pursuit than genre literature and that popular culture (including film) is a lesser art than literature. . .
Two points. 1) I did not and do not claim that “enthusiasm” for literature requires the exaltation of “canonical literature” over “lesser art[s].” I have myself published scholarly essays on film (which I love almost as much as literature), and through my blog The Reading Experience and the contacts it has made for me with other bloggers, I have come to have an increasing interest in “genre literature.” My argument for bringing literature back to literary study is not an argument for re-establishing a previous generation’s disdain for the popular arts. If the current generation surreptitiously shares this disdain, shame on them. 2) It doesn’t do anyone much good for radical scholars to admit while in their cups that they actually do like literature if in their “academic work” they go on ignoring it. One can be a “disinterested” scholar and also believe that such disinterest is ultimately in the best interests of literature--dispassionate analysis often gets us farther than passionate reaction.
Later in the post, LCL adds:
. . .to me the important thing is that scholars are enthusiastic about the intellectual questions of the field, not that the[y’re] enthusiastic about the object of study per se.
I find this statement rather astonishing. If literary scholars are not “enthusiastic about the object of study per se’’--that is, works of literature--but are instead pursuing other “intellectual questions,” then I can’t see why they would still be called literary scholars. They might be acting as sociologists, or philosophers, or political activists, but they’re not acting as scholars of literature. I have no quarrel with sociology or philosophy, and scholars in these fields are of course perfectly free to use works of literature to illuminate “questions of the field.” I simply don’t understand why one would want to take up the study of literature in the first place if one’s enthusiasm for reading particular works is questionable. Historical and theoretical studies of literature and its reception are all well and good, but why bother if you don’t much like the underlying “object” of your study to begin with? It’s a measure of how far from the original project of literary study we’ve come that what LCL calls the “subjective experience of literary art” might be examined in other people, but doesn’t have much to do with one’s own relationship to such art.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
The Real Thing
Jared Woodard of the weblog a Gauche asks of secondary literature, “Who reads it, and why?”
Secondary literature - the journal articles, essay collections, book-length commentaries - naturally follow from the desire of readers to refine their understanding of texts, to call attention to overlooked or undervalued arguments, and so on. The hope being, I imagine, that at various points in time (new centuries require new valuations) we will arrive at workable and approximate conclusions from which we may then take purposive steps either in the direction of concrete activity - given our newfound knowledge - or laterally on to some other academic question.
Continue reading "The Real Thing"
But all that assumes an audience; not just an audience of scholars, but an indirect public who would be influenced if not by the arguments themselves, then at least by the application of those arguments. That decisive link - the move to concretion - has long been lacking. Who is reading secondary literature in the humanities except for humanities scholars?
Friday, April 08, 2005
The Art of the Blog
In a recent post at his blog, Daniel Drezner asks, “Can Academics Be Bloggers?”
To put it gently, some top-notch academics have not completely mastered the art of the blog. In all likelihood this will change, but it points to a barrier to entry for good scholars; unlike lower-level primates like myself, high-profile academics will often attract attention the moment they start blogging, stripping them of the opportunity to stumble out of the gates and move down the learning curve under the radar.
Furthermore, tenured academics have to adjust to a new and strange power structure if they start blogging. Suddenly they’re in a world where mere graduate students, or worse yet, people possessing only a B.A., wield more power and influence than them. . . .
The “learning curve” exists, but it’s more like an “unlearning” curve, as Drezner further clarifies:
Yes, academics have writing experience, but they’ve been trained within an inch of their lives to eschew clear prose for jargon-laden discourse. There are sound and unsound reasons for this within the academy, but for blogging to the general public it’s disastrous.
This doesn’t mean that something like learned discourse can’t be sustained (in moderation) on a blog, but it does mean that most readers aren’t going to tolerate the current version of “jargon-laden” discourse to be found in academic literary study, even when they might be willing to tolerate it in journal articles or monographs. If literary blogging is going to carve out a place for itself among the respectable forms of academic/literary commentary, it will be as something somewhere between general-interest book reviewing and academic criticism: Serious about its subject (but not solemn), willing to explore the subject at some length (but also striving for concision).
More than anything else, academic blogging (in its literary version) is going to have to muster up some enthusiasm for its ostensible subject--literature. In my view, such enthusiasm is precisely what has been missing from academic criticism for at least the last two decades, and it is the reason why so many of those “mere graduate students” and “people possessing only a B.A.” have established themselves as bloggers worth reading. Many of them have enthusiasm to burn, and even though they also take their areas of study (whether it be literature, philosophy, art, or social science) very seriously, they want to convey their interest in these disciplines in a way that helps readers understand why one would want to study such things in the first place.
Drezner comments further that
Colleagues who do not write for a wide audience will overestimate the amount of time you devote to blogging, because they assume a one-to-one correspondence between public articles and scholarly articles (the actual ratio is more like 1:3). They will also underestimate the possibility that blogging is a complement rather than a substitute to traditional scholarship.
I agree that blogging is a complement to conventional scholarship, but this does not mean it cannot engage as substantively with works of literature, literary history, or critical theory as journal-published articles or cannot have an influence on the way readers come to terms with these subjects. Indeed, the wider audience blogs already command, as well as the way in which particular posts can be disseminated quite quickly through “linkage,” ought to allow literary/academic blogs to acquire a progressively more respectable name as sources of intellectual debate. I know that this is what John Holbo has in mind for The Valve. And ultimately, once the distinctive rhetorical requirements of the weblog as a form have been mastered, the amount of time spent composing a post, or reading it, should really have no bearing on how valuable an enterprise it turns out to be.