Saturday, May 21, 2011

A thought about blogging and literary studies

In her new book, The Uses and Abuses of Literature (Pantheon, 2011), which I'm reading to teach in my foundations course in the fall, Marjorie Garber writes:

"The best way for literary scholars to reinstate the study of literature, language, and culture as a key player among the academic humanities is to do what we do best, to engage in big questions of intellectual importance and to address them by using the tools of our trade, which include not only material culture but also theory, interpretation, linguistic analysis, and a close and passionate attention to the rich allusiveness, deep ambivalence, and powerful slipperiness that is language in action."

In some ways, this isn't either particularly groundbreaking, or really all that different from what most scholars I know are doing implicitly or explicitly. But there's something implied in here that I do think is something we've lost a sense of: what literature itself tells us about our own world. When I think about the academic blogs that I read , and write, for that matter, it occurs to me that few or even none of us regularly cites the literature we study when considering the big questions that we are often considering.

Why don't we do this, I wonder? Are we so steeped in the dogma of historical contingency that we cannot see the relevance of a Romantic, or Anglo-Saxon, or Modernist text to a contemporary issue? I know we want to avoid the Bartlett's Quotations approach to literature and the Big Questions, but certainly we can do better. This is how we renew our status as public intellectuals, and perhaps how we reinvigorate our apparently flagging discipline.

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