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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Saturday, October 08, 2005

Reactions

Posted by Jonathan Goodwin on 10/08/05 at 11:27 AM

Here are some selections from an ALSC Forum, presented, with the occasional comment, for your reading pleasure.

---

Wilbur’s stockboy reading Playboy on his lunch break shows (even though his choice of reading matter hardly counts as literary reading) a kindred absorption.

It is as if the stimulus (to the eye) of instant targeting and the enchantment (to the touch) of the perfect dexterity in achieving mock explosions had conjured up an instinct from our hunter-gatherer days.

Once you have gone from Dr. Seuss to Lewis Carroll, why stop there? From Carroll to Dickens is as natural a step.

(Except that about six sigmas separate Carroll from Dickens, if I may use a g-cultist metaphor)

Electronic diversions close the door to what Robert Pinsky calls the “theater of the imagination.”

(Like Pinksy’s interactive fiction Mindwheel?)

For one it is more important to a typical community college administrator that a new English department faculty hire be of the correct ethnic category to satisfy diversity hiring quotas than that the faculty be well- and widely-read in serious literature.

Also, many English faculty do not want to teach serious literature. They would rather teach students about movies, comic books with social content, science fiction and left wing causes dear to their hearts.

One is that in too many cases faculty are not able to read serious literature--they don’t have the intellectual skills or the intellectual hunger, ambition, or, above all, curiosity--and so feel naturally threatened by those who do.

(These last three have special charm.)

---

Our John Holbo has a piece in here which I think is more in touch with the reality on the ground, as they say.


Comments

Sounds like they’re taking Terry Eagleton’s latest book quite seriously.  Oh wait, can we not say that here?

By on 10/08/05 at 12:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Burlington, VT? Is that the pretentious one?

By Jonathan on 10/08/05 at 12:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yeah, it was a pretty sad affair, and certainly fed into the mood of my last post.

Holbo’s contribution made me think of the opening of one of my favorite Warner Bros. cartoons—probably by Bob Clampett—which showed a quiet reedy pond full of placidly floating mallards… and Daffy Duck, filing his fingernails. “Sorta stand out in a crowd, don’t I?”

By Ray Davis on 10/08/05 at 12:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Mark Bauerlein has asserted that there is more diversity of thought to be found in conservative venues. How does this ASLC forum look in light of his assertion?

By gzombie on 10/08/05 at 02:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t know if the ALSC Forum counts as politically conservative or not, and I didn’t tally its diversity of discourse, but its level reminded me why I’d been a math major (and a punk). That zine lacks Miriams even more than the Valve does, and it’s mighty short on Laura, too.

On the other hand, imagining what that issue would be like without Holbo kind of makes me wish, GZ, that you’d join the organization too.

By Ray Davis on 10/08/05 at 03:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ray, in my neighborhood growing up we called such events “sausage parties,” with a faux-North-Jersey-meets-Boston pronunciation: “Sassage paddies.”

But the content of the claims provided by Jonathan makes me cringe even more than their testicularity. 

Let’s just take #5: administrators care more about the ethnicity of the candidate than his/her talent.  Indeed, with a vast overproduction of English Ph.D.s, it’s always a zero-sum game: either a brown dude or a smart dude.  As if there aren’t plenty of dudes and dudettes both brown and talented.  And seeing as my graduate institution had a 75% job placement rate last year with only one brown student on the market, it’s also clear that talented whitey is being rejected in favor of Sambo.  What the fuck!?!?  It’s one thing when Bill Bennett talks out his ass, but real scholars?  (That is, the same sort of scholars, no doubt, who harp on Judith Butler’s messy prose or still get turned on by the Sokel Hoax.)

But that’s right, “many English faculty” are too busy teaching film and comic books to teach “serious literature.” Many’s less than most, and only most seems to call for actual numbers—again, no doubt from the same sort of scholar who demands that every line of literary criticism be subjected to positivist criteria of truth.  I’m at an Ivy League university, and every English professor here—with the exception of the film studies scholars—is teaching “serious literature.” I suppose the enemy is always elsewhere.  (And why is it that these same whingers never admit that the undergrads who are into film and comic books are generally the same undergrads who also read serious literature for pleasure?)

Last point: only a pinko-hippie Islamofascist mindcontrolling English professor would profess any similarity between the cult of young girlhood in *Alice in Wonderland* and the cult of young girlhood in *Little Dorrit*. 

These culture war zero-sum games are so boring.  Our culture is perpetually in decline, but somehow it never hits bottom.  It’s like how the middle class is always rising in every historical period: brother, the bourgies have risen!  In any case, I’m sure it’s the 200 professors in America who teach Joe Sacco who are to blame for the decline in national literacy.  Because people willing to work through hundreds of densely packed pages of words and images on Palestine or Bosnia are the same lazy bastards who can’t make it through Chaucer’s ass jokes.

By on 10/08/05 at 05:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

erm, this is what I was talking about when I launched my initial volley, way back when, re: the Valve and the ALSC.

What echoes around in my head are the words of my undergrad advisor, ALSC card carrier, the last time I stopped by to see him. “So, are they hiring anyone other than women and blacks at X [my grad instituion] nowadays?”

This about 30 seconds into our conversation…

I learned quite a bit from this man about how to read, it is true. But how repulsive is it that now that I’m “in the business” he feels free letting his guard down this way.

Of course, of course, not everyone in the ALSC are thinking the same thoughts. But enough seem to be…

By CR on 10/08/05 at 05:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"[P]eople willing to work through hundreds of densely packed pages of words and images on Palestine or Bosnia are the same lazy bastards who can’t make it through Chaucer’s ass jokes.”

ROFL

By gzombie on 10/08/05 at 05:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Who is Wilbur, and why does he get his own stockboy?  If I had a stockboy, he wouldn’t be allowed to read Playboy on his lunch break until he could prove he’d spent at least five minutes of every day declaiming in the Theater of the Imagination (with the electric light turned off, naturally.)

By on 10/08/05 at 05:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Luther, although I guess my choice of sensible authors left my complaint ambiguous, I wasn’t complaining about the ALSC Forum‘s lack of women but its lack of sense. (I actually don’t remember the ratio of male to female names—just remember the ratio of more or less offensive foolishness to intelligence.) It would’ve been nice to have you in there, too.

Laura, Wilbur was Mr. Ed’s owner. I remember this mostly because some of my college friends (the same ones who brainstormed “Buddy Ebsen with an Axe in His Head") brainstormed a spin-off sit-com named “Wilbur” with the theme song “A man is a man, a man, a man / Of course you can talk to a man, you can” ending in a close-up of Wilbur carefully enunciating “I am Wilbur.”

CR, yes, reading those particular rants showed me (again) how sensible your initial worries were. But as we’ve recently seen demonstrated by American theocrats, it’s possible for energetic members to change an organization’s public stance even if the organization is older and more established than ALSC. ALSC’s explicitly stated goals don’t include ignorance and bigotry, and so I remain hopeful that some good can be maneuvered out of it. If not, I’ve thrown away a couple of sawbucks and a little peace of mind—not too awful as losses go.

By Ray Davis on 10/08/05 at 06:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan,

Your inclusion of this comment is a little dishonest:

Once you have gone from Dr. Seuss to Lewis Carroll, why stop there? From Carroll to Dickens is as natural a step.

That quote, in context:

While we are at it, we might start further back. Advise parents to read aloud to their children for as long as the children permit it. Once you have gone from Dr. Seuss to Lewis Carroll, why stop there? From Carroll to Dickens is as natural a step.

Bromwich talks of creating reading habits which will, eventually, lead children from reading children’s books, to juvenile fiction, to mature intellectual fare (represented here, without apparent irony, by the Nineteenth Century’s juvenile fiction, but I digress).  You can attack Bromwich’s telos, the implicit idea that the purpose should be to create future readers of Dickens, but I don’t think his talk of habit formation misses the mark. 

Everyone else,

Quick question: if the canon discussed in these responses were expanded, would you still take issue with the general argument behind them, i.e. that the entertainment culture of our students is not bound to written word the way it was fifty or sixty years ago, and so our students, all of them, read less of and therefore react less intuitively to the written word?  (I only ask because Jonathan insists true scholars find value in whatever they read...if they read it, of course, and don’t learn about from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 10/08/05 at 07:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

FYI: All the Valve’s contributors have the authority to edit and/or delete all comments on all threads. 

Sincerely,

The Management

By The Management on 10/08/05 at 08:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I guess I would Scott, and only by observing that it doesn’t serve much purpose to insist on the overarching primacy of the written word in defining what constitutes literacy.  Renaissance drama was intended to be experienced in performance, not through silent private reading.  Reading aloud to a child wakes up the child’s taste for the shared experience of narrative, rather than only teaching them to read.

Then again, if the conversation were only about what’s wrong with students, as if there was some obvious and deep difference between them & everyone else, I’d not even bother with that limited amount of issue-taking.

By on 10/08/05 at 08:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Would you, Scott?

By on 10/08/05 at 08:58 PM | Permanent link to this comment

”. . .it doesn’t serve much purpose to insist on the overarching primacy of the written word in defining what constitutes literacy”

I have to say I find this comment rather astonishing. Of course literacy is about the “primacy of the written word.” The audience for Renaissance drama may indeed have been (undoubtedly were) better listeners and appreciators of the spoken word than today’s college students, but many of them were still, strictly speaking, illiterate. You could make an argument that oral competency is as valuable as literacy per se (I wouldn’t myself), but “literacy” is precisely about reading ability.

By Dan Green on 10/08/05 at 09:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not entirely sure I would, Laura, at least not with the way I phrased it.  With a couple of caveats, of course:

Renaissance Drama was written to be performed, but I don’t think Renaissance England had the kind of literate culture I’d like to see established.

More importantly, when I say that kind of literate culture I’d like to see established entails the reading habits common to the entertainment culture of forty or fifty years ago, I’m divorcing the practices of that culture from its historical context.

So yes, I’m contradicting myself, but here’s why: I know the Golden Age arguments don’t fly (mostly because there was no Golden Age for anyone not male, white and wealthy, really).  So I’m not interested in recreating anything, or in devaluing the importance of those aspects of non-literary culture (film, music, oral traditions, &c.).  What I am interested in a creating a more literate culture today, modeled, in part, on the reading habits of the wealthy white men of years past.  I want to democratize literate culture because, well, when people can’t control their words they can’t control refine their thought.  Here’s an argument from authority to that effect:

As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s master of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from “a broken home.” They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given words.

That’s from Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” and I’m of the belief that reading is the best means available to give children words.  (I once wrote a long entry, never posted, on how rap could have a similar function...then I read an interview with Eminem in which he was asked where his verbal dexterity comes from, and he said something to the effect of others can acquire it to if they “listen to people, listen to music, listen to words, but most important, read everything you can get your hands on: books, magazines, anything with a voice you can learn to speak in, one you can learn to speak through.” So much for that idea, then.  I dismiss it glibly, yes, but I listen to rap religiously, so it’s still floating around up there somewhere.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 10/08/05 at 09:30 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Yep fair call Dan. I knew it was a stupid word choice, but it seemed less pompous than some alternative like “narrative/cultural competency”. Scott, I really don’t like the way you say “the reading habits of the wealthy white men of years past.” Why bring in race and class and gender?  It lays you open to the young-fogey dismissal which is doing yourself an injustice because it makes people who are not inclined that way themselves already simply tune out.  Please, let’s speak in a decent and enlightened and not unnecessarily provocative way about the relative merits of print cultures and oral cultures

By on 10/08/05 at 10:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I just re-read your comment Dan, and as I’ve inadverdently echoed the word you used (competency), I thought I’d better make it clear I’m not trying to be funny or sarcastic about your remark, far from it.  (Sorry)

By on 10/08/05 at 10:31 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Laura, I bring it in because it’s an integral part of the Golden Age mythology that many of the participants in this forum forward.  I say “integral,” but I could just as well say “unintentionally implicit.” When, for example, one of the participants pines for children to have the reading habits of his youth, I cringe because I realize that the reading habits of senior faculty were probably cultivated in an environment the majority of the country can only aspire to.  I wasn’t being provocative, at least, I meant to defuse the most provocative part of my argument (the defense of bygone reading habits) by indicating that I’m absolutely, positively aware of the inherent limitations of my appeal (at least in its conventional formulation).

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 10/08/05 at 10:38 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, most of it seemed pretty banal and not particularly controversial to me.  Reading is on the decline, which will have bad consequences for society.  TV, the Internets, and video games receive the majority of blame.  Nobody has any good idea what to do about it.  What else is new? 

Two guys, for some reason, decided to use it as an opportuinity to start bashing English departments, even though one of them conceded right away that college professors were negligible factors in the trend.

The first four selections were basically picking nits.  I’m not sure what your point was.

By on 10/08/05 at 11:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve deleted about sixteen ridiculous comments off this thread.  Whoever you are, it’s just tiresome.  I can’t actually understand what you’re writing.  Please stop now.  Nobody is interested, and I promise you will continue to delete your comments. 

Sorry about that, everyone else.

By on 10/08/05 at 11:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, changes in reading habits over the past few centuries is an interesting topic, and it’s too bad that the Forum contributors handled the question with so much prejudice and so little detachment. (I just found the email I sent John Holbo about it: “The Inanity troops all in line with polished buttons, not a trace of sense or startle in the bunch. Just a series of No-Arguments based on No-Evidence to protest the loss of a No-Prize. And exactly as rigidly Establishment as Cult Rev warned.” Yeah, that still seems about right. I looked it up for this Paul Collins blog post.)

It seems likely to me, just from a theoretical point of view, that fewer middle class and upper middle class people nowadays read long works of fiction, and that the novel will slowly join poetry in the twilight. But literary reading (as opposed to trendy entertainment) has always been “at risk”. Hell, two of the literate bloggers I most respect have recently given pointers on how to skim, and skimming seems about as lit-numbing to me as six hours of TV a day or the Forum‘s indignant chant of “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.” Extended sensually-and-intellectually aware attention just isn’t something that gets mandated by politicians or preachers. I taught myself how to speed read, and then I had to teach myself to slow down; I don’t see a lot of people pushing the second half of that dialectic, even in academia.

By Ray Davis on 10/08/05 at 11:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Blah’s right.  If I read Jonthan’s post correctly, the last three (particularly charming) remarks all came from one (Gans) of the 13 collected essays.  Two others came from one other (Bromwich). If the point was to give us some sense of the flavor of the collection overall, this is obviously a heavily slanted sample.  Along with the cherry picked nature of the quotes, that doesn’t suggest much in the way of detachment.

By on 10/08/05 at 11:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

CR: “erm, this is what I was talking about when I launched my initial volley, way back when, re: the Valve and the ALSC.”

No, it really wasn’t, because your initial volley was all about how The Valve was going to be a tool of the ALSC.  I thought then and still do that this shows an insufficent understanding of the power relationships involved.  Basically, The Valve is Holbo (through “moral force”, and the fact that enough other posters would leave if he did so that it would lose its readers) and John, from his demonstrated history, is simply not an ALSC stereotype (fill in whatever type of stereotype you are most worried about). 

The ALSC has no leverage with which to change this even if it wanted to.  Yes, they pay for this blog, but so what?  It can’t be much money, and it’s not like everyone involved couldn’t blog elsewhere.  The ALSC get a bit of positive publicity out of sponsoring a blog run by a well known blogger, and that’s pretty much it.

By on 10/09/05 at 12:27 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, go look at my initial volley on my site: Google “alsc cultrev” and you’ll find it.

I say absolutely nothing about the Valve being a tool of the ALSC. The emphasis is squarely on the skanky nature of the organization and its funders.

My final paragraphs:

Hope Holbo and the others are confortable with getting their start-up money from an organization that got its start-up money from a Foundation that gave it’s annual awards last year to Heather MacDonald, Ward Connerly, Robert George, and George Freakin Will. Lately, they’ve been mostly up to funding the school privatization, I mean choice, stuff that’s been going on in Wisconsin…

Just important, I think, to know what company you’re keeping, who’s paying the bills…

Emphasis squarely on “the company that you keep” - not the Valve as astroturf…

The ALSC get a bit of positive publicity out of sponsoring a blog run by a well known blogger, and that’s pretty much it.

Right - this is exactly the problem, in my eyes, then and now. Why these folks (no - not you Rich - nobody’s put yr name on the roster) would want to give the ALSC “a bit of positive publicity.”

By CR on 10/09/05 at 12:38 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I really need to respond to all this but - to be adequate - my response would have to be long. I already owe Adam a long response so this task goes into the print queue of my mind.

First, thanks to Jonathan for starting this thread. It is a discussion that should happen, given our sponsorship, and despite my present temporal indisposition to discuss adequately.

Here’s an incidental irony.

The next issue of the ALSC newsletter should contain a letter complaining that the Valve is not traditionalist enough. With a somewhat (ahem) ironical response by me. I will draw attention to this exchange here at the Valve if and when it materializes. In the meantime, color me shot by both sides. (But it’s only paintball.)

Something brief. The ALSC is, in essence, an organization united by its discontents. This is, politically, a recipe for an incoherent coalition, for reasons obvious enough that I leave their discovery as an exercise for the reader. Personally, I very much like certain elements within the ALSC - I like some of John Ellis’ work quite a bit; other things he has written I disagree with. At last years conference, the jazz modernism panel was just about the liveliest conference panel I ever attended. A couple others were a bit dead. Mine on adaptation was OK. I like Mark Bauerlein’s stuff, obviously. He’s a long-time ALSCer. There is a kind of crustiness, on evidence in the “Reading at Risk” volume, that I have no use for. It seems to me not so much irritating as inert. You get no defense of it from me.

Why are we - the Valve - associated with the ALSC?

I’ve been over this at rather fabulously stupendous length but it comes down to two things. 1) I proposed this project somewhat on a lark in an ALSC meeting I literally just happened to attend, have since worked hard to pull it together. And here we are. 2) My belief is that, at the present time, the way forward is to develop better ‘organs of mediation’ - to use a somewhat top-heavy term for the functions of the little magazine. I realize that some of you - CR, I believe - have expressed the suspicion that this simply must be a trojan horse. Really I am hoping to establish new forms as efficient delivery vehicles for some private anti-Theory content. Presumably I invited Jonathan to be my beard, or protein sheath, or call it what you will.

But the truth is that the anti-Theory stuff is my hobbyhorse. (How can I possibly be the future? What are the odds that the future of literary studies is analytic philosophy-bred/Nietzschean pop cultural empsonian Trillingesque ‘vital center’ liberal Wittgensteinian wossname studies. I’m not a complete idiot, you know.) Anyway, to get back to the subject at hand: so far as I am concerned, the ALSC ought to be interested in what I am interested in: healthier pluralism than we’ve got. Literary studies is moving online, and rightly so. Publishing crisis and all. The thing to do is build the online thing you will like. No reason why it needs to be zero sum. Online there should be room for more. I think the ALSC - well, the people I know; I hope enough people - do see the logic of this strategy.

I’ve been writing too many anti-Theory posts and not doing enough editorial organization the past several weeks, but the idea is to get the ALSC to sponsor various good e-publishing ventures.

So, in answer to CR’s question, the point is not to give the ALSC a bit of positive publicity and there’s an end to it. The point is that I think the ALSC is a mixed bag - like any organization. I think the mix is acceptable enough that I am happy for them to do well. I certainly don’t wish them ill. I would like the mix bag to become a more attractive mix through focus on the only thing it makes sense for a coalition of assorted malcontents to focus on: a healthier sort of pluralism in literary/cultural studies as a whole. If there are those in the ALSC who aren’t interested in anything of the sort, they won’t get any help from me. They can make their own way as best they can. That’s OK. (All this is quite off the cuff and I reserve the right to emend my thoughts later.)

By John Holbo on 10/09/05 at 03:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The question is: does this currently anonymous letter-writer name names, and if he does, does he name mine?  Because the careerist in me needs to know: how do I spin this possible insult/praise to my dissertation advisor at tomorrow’s house-warming party?  Yes, at this point in the dissertation I’m so paranoid as to believe my advisor stalks me, so that whenever I say anything he can cut me down that much more effectively.  Of course, he’s probably just not sleep-deprived, inconstantly ill and more than a little frazzled; in fact, he’s probably responding off-the-cuff to the mockery-worthy material I provide in the heat of the awkward uncomfortable moment...none of that’s true, of course, except for the anxiety.  I’m sure future hiring committees will hold it against me, but it’s not like we can all pump out brilliant dissertations in less time than it takes to fry a pre-cooked patty.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 10/09/05 at 03:24 AM | Permanent link to this comment

CR: “Right - this is exactly the problem, in my eyes, then and now. Why these folks (no - not you Rich - nobody’s put yr name on the roster) would want to give the ALSC “a bit of positive publicity.””

Because in return, they get to influence the ALSC in the direction that they want it to go.  Their effect on the overall direction of the ALSC is proportional to the publicity effect.  No one is going to read the Valve and then decide “Hey, I like George Will!”

By on 10/09/05 at 11:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, I wasn’t attacking Bromwich in that quotation, though I do think that there should be a moratorium lasting perhaps a century on all references to “hunter-gatherers.” My point is that I think Dickens is better children’s literature than the cold and minatory Carroll. Bromwich seemed to suggest that Dickens was a step-up on the reading ladder somehow.

Sean, the Gans piece reflects what most people think of when they hear “ALSC.” Should it? I hope not. But it’s true, nonetheless. Other quotes just struck my interest in some ways. As a whole, the essays seem to me unfortunately luddish, “crusty” in John’s term. The point of my post was to invite discussion of them and the very real issues about electrate culture they raise. Many of these essaylets were written by important and admirable scholars, but I wish they would have turned their attention to the already immense and growing literature on the issue. Perhaps that’s outside the scope of the assignment, but, to me, it seems necessary.

By Jonathan on 10/09/05 at 12:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean, the Gans piece reflects what most people think of when they hear “ALSC.” Should it? I hope not. But it’s true, nonetheless.

Right.  That’s a good reason not to have given it disproportionate emphasis, especially if you’re gonna complain about people recycling stereotypical views. 

The point of my post was to invite discussion of them and the very real issues about electrate culture they raise.

Fair enough. But to be honest, I don’t see anything in your post that suggests that you think the essays raise “real issues” or that there’s something missing from them that we need to know about it.  I’d be interested in learning more about that literature.

By on 10/10/05 at 07:09 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Why was it printed? I gave it disproportionate emphasis precisely because it’s so wretched and, I have no reason to doubt, not terribly idiosyncratic. If the ALSC is going to become an organization in anyway relevant, it’s got to change attitudes such as that one in particular, and the luddite orientation evidenced by most of the other entries in general.

New media/digital rhetoric scholarship has been produced for at least, depending on how you define it, forty years. It’s hard for me to believe that the contributors here (and you) are completely innocent of it. In fact, the utter lack of reference to it seems studied.

By Jonathan on 10/10/05 at 08:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

How old is the word “electrate”, and what’s its provenance?  I hadn’t seen it before.  Interesting.

By on 10/10/05 at 08:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, I am pretty ignorant of that scholarship.  Sorry.  Why not educate those of us who are and point out what’s wrong with the arguments in the volume?  What I think you’re saying here, though, is that the essays actually don’t raise serious issues and that Gans is not an outlier but representative--further that the essay itself is aptly represented by those three quotes.  I don’t think the first implication is at all true, and I’m doubtful about the latter two. In fact, a quick read of those essays suggests to me that there is reason to think that Gans is relatively idiosyncratic and that others and even he include a mixture of views and ideas, some of which are useless and crusty and others of which are thoughtful and worth considering.  If he weren’t a relative outlier, I suspect you wouldn’t have ended up getting three out of seven items in your spot-the-offense from his essay.  As to why the Gans essay was printed, there are lots of plausible explanations--organization, political, and editorial.  I think you’re making more of it than it merits.

By on 10/10/05 at 09:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I think Jonathan’s using a derivative of the term “electracy,” coined by Gregory Ulmer. More here, here and here.

By Clancy on 10/10/05 at 11:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I once heard Katherine Hayles, one of the scholars whose work is relevant here, say that the traditional literature department will become as the classics department is now within ten or fifteen years. That was actually about five years ago. Twenty’s more like it, but it’s out of the bottle.

What is to be done? Several digital rhetoric/new media scholars emphasize the inadequacy of “literacy” to describe our interaction with these emerging technologies. The relation of writing to the oral tradition is a key point of comparison. Some are technodeterminist, some utopian. Teilhard de Chardin, McLuhan (a Canadian profiled in Cronenberg’s Videodrome--obscure, but perhaps you may have come across the name before), Ong, Havelock perhaps. Ulmer’s work, which I was referring to above, applies post-structuralist insights to the issue in creative ways. His and Scholes’s Textbook is probably the best work of its genre. Bolter, Landow, and Murray. Mitchell. Marie-Laure Ryan. Kenner, in ways. Jerome McGann.

Do the responses engage with any of this scholarship? Do they acknowledge its even potential relevance? Not that I could see. I’d prefer, certainly, that classics departments have the enrollments of undergraduate business administration across the country, not to mention literature departments. But again, how’s that to be done? Not through nostalgia. Not through resentment about minorities and feminists and theorists mucking everything up (see Harris also).

By Jonathan on 10/10/05 at 02:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey, thanks, Jonathan.  I never heard of that McLuhan guy or Teilhard.  I do appreciate the enlightenment.

I don’t see that this list of names really addresses the question.  Nor, if I read it correctly, did that volume cast the issue as being what will happen to literature departments.  The relevant questions seem to be: is print reading for entertainment and enlightment in decline; is that decline related to “elecracy”; does that decline matter in any larger respect for civic or cultural reasons; do college curricula have any influence on it?  The fact that there are arguably new kinds of literacy; that they are unlike print literacy; and that they might possibly be described well in poststructuralist terms doesn’t seem to me to undermine the significance of those questions, but rather to complement them.  Maybe I’m wrong, but it would be helpful if you could explain what the alternative perspectives might be.

By on 10/11/05 at 08:33 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The decrease in reading of print is related to the increase in consumption of digital media. I think most of the contributors and other observers agree on this, though I’m not sure if it’s accurate.

Do you then rail against digital media? Wish the clock could be turned back? A number of those people I mentioned, again, stress that there’s a parallel between how the oral tradition depised literacy and how the literate tradition fears, in some ways, “electracy.” Therefore, scholars need to work to understand digital media and to use it for education and enlightenment (perhaps). I see most of these essays, with the exception of John’s, looking instead very far backwards and sighing. Do you have any specific counterexamples I missed in my nit-pickiness?

By Jonathan on 10/11/05 at 01:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I thought nearly all of them, with some striking exceptions, were less simplisitic than that and that nearly all acknowledge that, as Chace emphasized (and as Blah mentions above), no one actually knows quite what to do or what the consequences of a decrease in print reading will be.  I would have said that the main shared contention was that print literacy has valuable intellectual, cultural, and civic effects; that these may be endangered; and that, in any case, it is worhtwhile in teaching and public advocacy to emphasize their value.  Passages of curmudgeonliness aside, that doesn’t seem so terrible. I think your “perhaps” rightly acknowledges that it’s not clear that alternatives are obviously superior.

By on 10/11/05 at 01:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The creative use of language began to go downhill the day writing appeared. Everything else is just details.

By gzombie on 10/11/05 at 03:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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