Literary Re-Readings

A blog about problems in English Studies and/or literary studies that I can't seem to put into traditional academic form. An attempt at explaining the purpose and meaning of literary scholarship without leaning heavily on institutional vocabulary and tiresome political generalizations. I'm trying to use the open form of the blog to think through some very thorny issues in the humanities.

Name:
Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

Aging grad student wondering about life and purpose, about our cultural values and identity, about the value of localism vs. globalization, about the ability to define myself as an American without reference to consumption or purchasing habits.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

thinking about methods

So I'm wondering now what I'm supposed to actually "do" as a literary scholar.

I was doing a little keyword searching on my university library's catalog. I was searching for literary criticism and general stuff, introductions and that kind of thing. But it's funny how little pops up when you insert the word "practice." In other words, if you search for "literary criticism" you get five hundred titles. If you add the word "practice," you get fifteen. And ten are about the practice of feminist criticism. It's funny that feminist literary criticism deserves credit for introducing the notion (GASP!) of practice into the discussion of literary criticism.

I suppose that it is clear that I am more than a little skeptical of our current disciplinary formation. I don't think that it serves our purposes anymore, except insofar as it annoys and frustrates a number of people out of the discipline. It's not nice to think about that as a purpose of the discipline. I don't endorse elitism or exclusion, and I would really like it if we could broaden and deepen our discipline to include more than we exclude. But that's part of the reason that I'm writing here - because I think that one of our principal disciplinary moves is to exclude. Perhaps that's fundamental to all disciplines, and one of the other frustrations that I'm verbalizing is the inability of this discipline to exclude ideas that work against its core principles.

There I go. What privilege do I have to articulate the core principles of this discipline?

Some recent authors will appeal to disciplinary history as an authority about these core principles. I don't quite buy that, and I'm also suspicious of that.

I suppose I'm suspicious of a lot of things. First and foremost, I'm suspicious of the desire that this blog represents. Do I really think I'll be able to answer these questions?

Darn, that's hard.

Well, let's table that most difficult of questions, and move to something perhaps more within my grasp. What does it mean, for me, to do English? To practice English studies? To do literary criticism?

Because we know that it's not simple evaluation. We aren't here to tell people what's good or bad. Or are we? Are we talking about multiculturalism merely as a way to substitute a liberal value system for a conservative Great Books elitism? There are a lot of people who want to say that, on both sides. I suppose there's nothing inherently wrong with espousing politics in the English classroom, as long as:

1. You aren't dogmatic about it (you don't push that on people, which many do, and you don't expect unthinking or "common sense" adoption of these views, which many do)

2. You believe that no act of evaluation can occur outside of so-called "politics," that all statements of value (indeed all values) are always-already conditioned and imbricated in a political fabric. That you can't get outside of your contingent position to an objective reality to perform abstract, universal judgment, so why bother? Why pretend that you can get into the ivory tower when all such towers have long since fallen? Why not admit that you're just as much a businessperson as the next person and move on?

I don't know that I accept both of these. I can see the wisdom of both. I have been known to push my liberalism in the classroom, and I have been known to espouse the view that all evaluations are conditioned by politics and/or subjectivity. But only that? But is it ever only that? Someone might argue that it's meaningless to try to get beyond the subjective in the evaluative act, but I'm losing something here. There's an elision - I'm collapsing the difference between "conditioned by politics" and "subjective." There is a difference, and perhaps that difference can save us. To say that something is "conditioned by politics" is to say that my class, race, and gender position can strongly influence my views on ostensibly objective or external subjects, like a novel. To say that something is "subjective" is to say that my personal preferences - conditioned, of course, by race/class/gender but also by everything else that makes me a unique human individual - strongly influence my views. I think that the discussion of the subjective is a much more extreme view. Or perhaps the term "subjective" is merely a stronger word for the same thing. I'm not sure here.

Anyway, I'm supposed to be thinking about methods.

Am I supposed to evaluate a literary text? Am I supposed to communicate its value - offer some kind of "go out and read it" comment? A "book critic" would do that. Am I something other than a "book critic"? David Shumway makes a distinction between a "man of letters" like William Dean Howells, who was a magazine editor, and Cleanth Brooks, who was a Yale professor (and happened to edit a journal). I haven't finished the book yet, but it seems like Shumway suggests that the literary critic does the same thing as the book critic just not in the same way.

So what way is that? How am I supposed to operate?

I don't have an easy answer right now. I want to throw out the obvious stuff - close reading, biographical and/or historical research, and so on - but that doesn't seem adequate (necessary and sufficient).

I'm tired. I'll come back to this.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Really long break

I've been slacking a bit this semester, and I've been away from writing like this for too long. I published a short work on Hemingway, and now I'm at a loss for things to talk about in relation to that guy. I've been doing a little work on Faulkner - my bread and butter - but that brings up a host of issues that are related to the subject of this blog, so I want to do a little thinking about this, and I'm hoping that this blog is a good place to do that.

Anyway, I presented a paper at an informal lit crit panel at my school the other day, on Faulkner. And we started getting some questions from other students. There were no faculty members in the room, so I felt pretty confident talking out of my ass a little - or, to phrase that a bit better, I wasn't as worried about all of the blind spots in my analysis, or all of the partial untruths that I was getting away with in response to the questions. Then I got sloppy.

Let me be more precise. I was talking about the Snopes trilogy, an obscure set of books by Faulkner that people occasionally study but that is most often neglected. They are unusual in the sense that they form a connected series of plots, but not unusual in that they mostly take place in Yoknapatawpha. They were written, too, much after the so-called "major phase" that occurred in Faulkner's early career and ended by the end of WWII. I talked a little bit about the New Critics, mentioning them as if I had done extensive study on them. Which I have not, though I plan to. Then someone asked the panel a general question about studying canonical figures and how to deal with the vast amounts of scholarship available.

I answered first and gave a long, rambling response where I started to notice that people were getting bored with my answer so I started cracking jokes. I said something about the Snopes trilogy being just a bunch of crap, and how no one wanted to have to read the books, so I had job security. Then, of all people, the moderator made a comment about being uncomfortable with the evaluative nature of calling a book a piece of "crap," and how evaluative statements or acts of evaluation are dangerously political and should not be encouraged.

Then no one was really sure what to say. Obviously, the comment was dead-on accurate, and I deserved the rebuke. And some nice people tried to step in and save me for being a prick. But they mostly failed. I tried to respond, and I couldn't come up with anything to say except an academic version of an apology.

So now I feel like I need to figure out what I think about this question. I sent my questioner a strange e-mail about agreeing with her point, and how I wasn't sure how to answer that question because I was a little confused about it myself. I haven't received a response yet, though it's only been a few days.

But I'd like to talk about that a little. I turned to Barbara Herrnstein Smith's book, Contingencies of Value, because other authors had pointed me in her direction in regards to questions of literary criticism and literary value, and I had been looking at her book for a little while. In other words, I had thought about reading her book, but hadn't yet done more than read a few pages.

So far, Herrnstein's argument is that ALL acts of evaluation are contingent, and/or conditioned by the context of the act and the actor. So Smith hasn't given me much of an answer to this question yet.

I would like to say that my description of The Town, for example, by Faulkner, as "crap," stems from the unpleasant experience of reading him. Reading Faulkner is not often fun, and often very challenging, not to say stultifying. Sometimes I fall in love with his careful yet strange language, and sometimes the bizarre juxtapositions of Southern dialect and latinate phrases just evokes some topsy-turvy culture that isn't sure about anything. Sometimes he just gets things right, and that's why I read him. The careful density of the opening passages of Absalom, Absalom, for example, is wonderful for me. I love the Quentin section of The Sound and the Fury beyond almost all of his other work. And parts of Light in August really work for me, though other parts of that same book are painful and unpleasant, like watching the really violent parts of bad movies over and over again. I want to say that reading The Town was not pleasant, and that the book is therefore crap, but then of course this implies that the only meaningful value in books is the pleasure they produce when you read them. I don't buy that. Though it's perhaps the most obvious way to demonstrate value. Perhaps for some people this demonstrates a lack of value. But I liked the Da Vinci Code for this reason - it was a fun read.

There is a remark on the back of my copy of Contingencies of Value from Richard Rorty, saying something about how Smith is arguing for a Deweyan conception of value based on contingency. The way that he says it makes it sound like her views are similar to his - the contingency of language, etc. I'm not far enough in the book to agree or disagree. But I'm suspicious.

I'd like to continue this vein again soon.

Friday, February 24, 2006

back at it

I've been working a lot on a single book, The Sun Also Rises. I've been thinking about the way that Hemingway talks about non-white people. It's so glaring to me now. I mean, he uses the N-word to talk about an African drummer in a jazz club, rips Cohn apart for being Jewish, and talks very bad about homosexuals. What's this guy's problem, I keep thinking.

But I think it's more than that, and I'm trying to figure out what's going on. I think that a lot of the book seems to bounce off of Bill Gorton. Bill is an important character, and I'm going to try to talk about what I see going on with that guy. I think that Bill is one of the few characters that ends the book in the same place as where he began. He goes back to New York, still unmarried, still a successful writer, and probably still planning to return the next year. He's sensitive about Jake's wound when he accidentally stumbles onto the topic at dinner when they are going fishing, and he is the only one that Jake confides in about his feelings for Brett. (It's possible that Mike knows about it, but that doesn't come out through the course of the book.) He is also Cohn's truest friend, in the sense that he takes care of Cohn when he is lying in bed crying. Jake hates him, and has a hard time even going into his room when Bill asks him. And Bill expresses remorse about Cohn after Cohn has left.

Bill also tells a sympathetic story about the African boxer that is kicked out of a boxing match for winning. And he goes back to a bar to start a fight with a bunch of English and Americans who are saying bad things about Mike. He seems to quickly and easily connect with Harris in Burguete, and he generally gets along with everyone.

I want to say that Bill represents a Hemingway man who has discovered how dangerous and painful it is to be in love with a woman, and has sought the friendship of men because he knows that these friendships will last and will be more meaningful. So he's a kind of neuter? But he seems to seek intimacy with Jake after their first day of fishing, and there seems to be a sense of tenderness toward Harris that is hard to explain. I don't want to leap out to say that Bill is homosexual, or bisexual, because there really isn't any evidence for that. But Bill might be uninterested in that. He makes the comment about Brett being beautiful after he first meets her, and it's unclear what his relationship with Edna really is, so there's a sense that he might have some heterosexual attachment. But not anything major in the course of the novel.

So is Bill just there to contrast his more real neutrality with Jake's jealousy?

I'm not sure about this, so I'll try to come back.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Tied up?

There are a few too many things going on in here now, and I'm going to try to slow down and answer some of my questions before I throw any more curveballs at my reader (there might be one, even beside myself, someday).

I'm talking a bit about the issues I have with my discipline (English Studies), and then throwing an example of my own hubris at my reader to try to first, point out how I might have wandered far from the traditional disciplinary borders, and second, suggest that there are issues where literature can become involved where people don't expect (and often don't agree with).

We haven't defined literature yet, and I'm not sure that I'm ready for that yet. I'll put that off a little more, if you don't mind.

I posted a link to a site about humanism on my links page. It might be a good place to start thinking about what that term really means. I've been reading a lot from the most recent issue of Profession (the annual publication of the Modern Language Association in which the officers of the association and a few concerned others write very short articles about problems in the discipline).

I'm going to cut my thinking short, and just say that it seems that this particular collection of thinking doesn't seem to come to a consensus about the meaning of interdisciplinarity, for example, and whether we as English scholars should continue to pursue it. Or if the way that we tend to pursue it (for whatever reason) is flawed for reasons we can't control, and we should stop fooling ourselves and try to change the way that University hiring and tenure decisions are damaging the discipline.

I'll do a bit more thinking to clarify my claims here and come back when I'm a little more ready.


Kansas State House mural of John Brown, vigilante and religious zealot and all-around interesting historical figure.  Posted by Picasa

Another re-post

I'm trying to put these old posts here to mix up the conversation a bit. I don't think that my thoughts about literature and globalization are totally crazy or totally unrelated. I'm just not sure yet exactly what the relationship is, or how to explain it or make it useful. That's what I'm doing here - trying to get there. So here's another re-post of some older thinking:

Arjun Appadurai and theories of global cultural flows
I've been reading and thinking about Arjun Appadurai's book, Modernity at Large, quite a bit lately. There are two really useful aspects of this book in this context. First, Appadurai describes five aspects, or five different ways of thinking about globalization. He equates the term "globalization" with the idea of "global cultural flows," which is annoyingly broad enough to add very little to the discussion. But the five terms he coins are useful, I think:

Ethnoscapes - "the landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live" (33) - stable communities often partly constituted by shifting constellations of immigrants and/or people from other places.

Technoscapes - the global configuration and increasingly rapid exchange/transfer of technology ("both high and low") from one place to another (34).

Financescapes - the increasingly rapid global shifts and changing configurations of global capital as it moves through "currency markets, national stock exchanges, and commodity speculations" (34).

Mediascapes - both "the distribution of the electronic capabilities to produce and disseminate information (newspapers, magazines, television stations, and film-production studios)" and "the images of the world created by these media" (35).

Ideoscapes - "are also concatenations of images" like mediascapes, but "they are often directly political and frequently have to do with the ideologies of states and the counterideologies of movements explicitly oriented to capturing state power or a piece of it. These ideoscapes are composed of elements of the Enlightenment worldview, which consists of a chain of ideas, terms, and images, including freedom, welfare, rights, sovereignty, representation, and the master term democracy" (36).

Appadurai points out that there are "deep disjunctures" between/among the first three, and that those disjunctures are refracted through the last two in multiple and conflicting ways. His use of the suffix -scape is an evocation of "landscape," suggesting both a perspectival or positional understanding of these five aspects of globalization, as well as a link to Benedict Anderson in the term "imagined worlds" (instead of an "imagined community").

So there can be multiple ways of seeing each individual aspect - multiple ethnoscapes, especially - though it seems like some of the "scapes" are unitary and "real," or fundamentally discoverable in a way that is different from the perspectival nature of the concept of "ethnoscape." So there's a flaw in the way the parts interact in this model - it suggests the primacy of capital, since capital is measurable, and a noticeable chunk of Appadurai's book involves a critique of the colonialist policy of enumeration of British subjects in India. In other words, the five "scapes" seem to be ordered. The seemingly unitary financescape might be the most influential "scape," right? And the others are less important but influential variables in the global financescape?

But that's not necessarily true. People are literally countable, just like money. And population statistics can be interpreted just like financial statistics, with bias toward certain structures, certain properties, certain patterns. Maybe my marxist bias makes me think against this - the old base-superstructure fallacy - but I'm thinking that the primacy of financescapes over ethnoscapes is also a capitalist illusion. Hence the tendency to reduce globalization to what Saskia Sassen calls "economic globalization." To someone like Thomas Friedman or Jagdish Bhagwati or Martin Wolf it's all about (and only about) the money. Everything else flows from that, right? It's the money that flows, and people, culture, "prosperity" follows.

The second part of Appadurai's book that I think is really useful is the way that he describes the local as socially constructed and produced, not territorially determined or bound. In other words, he doesn't really subscribe to a strong geographical determinism. While this might have been the case in the past, he doesn't think that modern concepts either of ethnicity or locality really build on a place (real or imagined). Put another way, locality is a "structure of feeling," a term from Raymond Williams. The production of locality is increasingly contested, according to Appadurai, by the efforts of the nation-state to control and define the localities within its jurisdiction, the general cultural drift away from a particular "territory" as a defining element of identity (both individual and collective), and the erosion of the distinction between "spatial" and "virtual" neighborhoods (189).

Williams would also add, as the earlier parts of Appadurai's book suggest, that terms like "community" (which Williams said is suspiciously "always positive") are used in this context of the production of locality as a means of contesting and controlling what a locality should be. And both Appadurai and Tsing (and others, like Harvey) point out the crucial role of scale in these struggles as well. It matters very much if we talk about a "global village," or a more literal "village" - whether we talk about a single bounded space or a large-scale concept like "nation" or "globe." These scales do things.

More on this later.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

To prove it

I added the old page to my technorati profile to prove that I'm not quoting some other slacker and claiming it as my own:

benkman's technorati profile

If anyone was wondering.

If it matters . . .

I'm posting from an old blog that was also me - BKGLOBAL was another username for myself - and I was trying to post my thinking in preparation for a preliminary examination that I took in July. I failed, and re-took (and passed) that exam in December, mostly because I abandoned the difficult (and misshapen) thinking that this blog was an example of.

Oh well. I like to think that there are some seeds here - things that can grow into useful and edible things in the future with a little care and sunlight (and maybe a little fertile feces).

Here's a re-post

I warned you that I might be pulling posts from a previous blog to consolidate. Sorry, but here's one:

So I've been doing a bit of reading, and thinking about why regionalism might be related.

I want to say that regionalism is a way of talking about texts that describe or image the local. Texts that concern themselves with a bounded setting, and do not attempt to broaden that setting into something more, or universal.

So Main Street is not quite localism, according to this definition.

But perhaps it should be? I don't think that I've seen anyone try to put this text into the genre of regionalism. (We need to be careful about that term - we aren't sure if it's a genre or a form. Perhaps a genre, because it's not linked to structure in quite the way that form - or literary structure - is. We might need to just stick to "group.") It has the other ingredients - according to Richard Brodhead, regionalism should describe an out-of-the-way place, should make use of dialect or locally-inflected speech patterns, and should otherwise depict non-mainstream cultures.

Perhaps it's that last part that prevents the entrance of Main Street into the group. Lewis is not trying to describe how the local culture and/or local knowledge of Gopher Prairie (GP) are different from other small towns. Part of the point is exactly how similar GP is to other small towns, and how common and ordinary life in GP really is. That's what drives Carol crazy about living there - as in her thinking about the scenery on her initial train ride out to her new home with Kennicott.

So, then, Main Street is a text that could be described as anti-localism, or a text that tries to convince its readers that the local context, the restraints of local cultures and local knowledges, are something to be overcome, put in perspective, and otherwise relegated to minor, peripheral status. Great Art seems to transcend place (and not everyone can appreciate it, or not everyone wants to appreciate it because it might mean letting go of too many everyday sources of power and comfort). This is a book about perspective, about scales, and about transcendence. Carol gains perspective in Washington. She sees Gopher Prairie for what it is, and stops treating it as the only important place in the world.

But things get much more complicated when they are inflected by ethnicity. Main Street really doesn't address issues of race/ethnicity/Otherness except to comment on some ethnic prejudices. Carol's new-found perspective doesn't really address the prejudice of the GP upper class against the mostly Scandinavian immigrants who settle there. Though her struggle for change continues, it seems to be less important. Her own solution renders her activism trivial. In other words, Main Street opens the issue of ethnic (and class) rivalries, without really detailing the problems or exploring the issue in any meaningful way. (Olaf is an interesting counter-example, and might point to the potential rewards of a heavy influx of immigrants, and the dangers to the current class structure inherent in such a diverse underclass.) And you can make reference to a larger perspective, or otherwise resuscitate a character like Carol Kennicott by linking her with a larger, cosmopolitan (danger word!) world. As a "modern" (danger word!) woman, she aligns herself with women's suffrage, the labor movement, and otherwise perceives and responds to the "ideoscapes" that Appadurai refers to - the globalizing understanding of Enlightenment power words like "democracy."

In other words, because Carol is a "white" woman, it's not dangerous for her to appeal to a "larger" perspective of human rights and international struggle. What is much more dangerous is for someone like Zora Neale Hurston to appeal to a larger perspective.

That's a complicated point, and it's going to take a lot of heavy lifting to get that properly qualified.

What I mean is this - the local, particular life of Gopher Prairie, as imaged by Lewis, is not the kind of life worth celebrating. Carol's decision to abandon her connection or her identification (perhaps that's the important move that I want to make here) with her home and to instead maintain a "perspective" that permits her to take the small town less seriously, does not destroy her right to exist or to be an individual person.

That doesn't make sense. Let's back up a little. By connecting her desire for change with universal rights, and by otherwise pursuing or valuing things that seem to be "larger" or more important (the hint, of course, is that Carol is paying attention to social issues in GP, but that they aren't important or aren't as important as social issues in a global sense), Carol loses the urgency that drove her throughout the rest of the book. In other words, this larger perspective has had the undesired effect of reducing her motivation for change.

We could call this "larger perspective" a cosmopolitanism (danger word!), a word that connotes an internationalism, an ability to circulate among varying cultures, to gather and employ local knowledges. I'm thinking of synonyms like "worldliness," or "cultured," or "well-traveled." It's interesting, too, how this sense of the term is inflected by gender - we have the phrase "man of the world," but not really "woman of the world." It's usually men who thus circulate, or who circulate in the sense of gathering local knowledges (I'm thinking here of people like T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, men who put their erudite preciosity on display.)

So Carol, who struggles in her role as a regional subject for most of the book, leaves the region to live in Washington for a few years, and discovers the larger perspective that allows her to cope with regionality. (Let's slip back into the phrase "localism." It's a little less freighted.) But this move, this acquired cosmopolitanism (yes, it becomes a kind of object, like a postcard or other tourist trash) threatens Carol's claims to specificity. Without a local reference to frame her identity (or with a weakened, less powerful bond to locality), Carol has reduced the strength of her own claims to difference, of identity through difference.

But that's also complicated. Carol is different, in the sense that not many people in GP have this cosmopolitanism. So, her "perspective," though it weakens her personal bond with the local and makes her a less local subject, still makes her unique and different from other GP residents, and gives her a unique identity in that community.

Carol, and Gopher Prairie, then, become almost a representative small town (if such a thing can be accepted, and we can assume from Lewis's remarks in his narrative that he accepts such a possibility of representativeness), with wholly local subjects (most of the residents) and worldly men and women (like Carol).

I'm not sure that I'm appropriately explicating Carol's identity here. I think that her upbringing in St. Paul makes her a bit different already, and more likely to accept the cosmopolitan perspective than residents of GP. It is, after all, closely akin to the metropolitan identity that she had already adopted through her father, and her former life.

I'll need to return to this later.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Introductory remark

I have a few blogs on here already, so I don't know if it's quite fair to be posting this, when I haven't made good on the post I put in for the Political Readings. But this is something that I have to do anyway, and I think that trying to post this in public will only help me be motivated.

The idea here is something other than the other two. I want to post my thinking about literary criticism here, and I want to do it in a way that makes sense to the non-specialist. I want to put things here that I don't usually talk about with other people in the discipline, and questions that are too hard or too obvious or too "stupid" to think about with other professional readers.

I don't want to make this a blog that tries to poke fun and complain about the difficulties of contemporary scholarly life. I want to talk about the field, the goals of the discipline, and how it has lost its connection with its audience and its important social function.

Let me explain that a little. I'm thinking of a book by Tom Lutz that argues along these lines - that English Studies has wandered so far afield (or so many English scholars have wandered so widely in so many directions in the name of "interdisciplinarity" that we've achieved a kind of disciplinary hubris akin to the old-time attitude of philosophy as the field that encompasses all knowledge and all scholarship) that we've lost touch with actual non-professional readers who desire an evaluation - a book critic who, like a film critic, helps people decide what to read or what to go to the movies for.

I think that there are a lot of problems here, both with this claim and with the way that I'm making it. There are still many people who call themselves "book critics" and who make their living at it. Some of them are very good at what they do, and some of them are academics who bring years of careful scholarship with them to the book-critic's table. But the discipline, as a whole, doesn't encourage this kind of activity. Instead, we are encouraged to publish articles and books about texts that often are difficult to find, not very interesting or enjoyable as books, and no longer important to contemporary culture. For example, I wrote my MA essay on The Mill on the Floss. Few people have heard of it, let alone read it. It's rather long and can be rather boring. I must admit, at this point, that I enjoy Henry James and Charles Dickens and authors of their ilk.

I don't think that I'm saying that English professors need to throw away their old books, join Oprah's Book Club (though she has become wonderfully challenging and I'm very happy that she has moved in the direction she has), and abandon the remote and unpopular. Far from it. But I think that we need to be reminded why we are doing it.

By using "we," I suppose I should say that I'm not calling myself a professor. I have taught college level English, though it was all composition. I've never taught a literature class. But I've been in graduate school for some time, and I consider myself someone who can speak with some experience about the discipline. And perhaps the fact that I'm not safely ensconced inside the establishment makes me a bit more critical. Though I have to admit I would not hesitate to enter if someone offered me an academic opportunity.

I think it's a problem that it's not entirely clear, even to graduate students, why we pursue English Studies and to what ends we write the things that we write, and teach the things that we teach. I have heard it said (perhaps even by me) that the goal of English scholarship is ultimately social change. But I think that's a bit too ambitious. It's not quite the same thing as being a book critic. And it's not quite the same thing as being a philosopher. It's not even the same as being a novelist.

I suppose that it could be a way of explaining the culture to itself. But that requires the premise that culture (which I am using as a broadly-inclusive term for the collective ways of life, shared or not, of a large group of people like a nation) can be studied through its literature, and that literature (whatever that means) is an important field of cultural production and/or dissemination. It might not be. Anyway, I'm not sure that I can defend that proposition without a little bit more research. I probably wouldn't be able to defend it without appealing to someone who writes from within the field. It might be impossible to escape that point - this premise as circular because it has only been made by people who write from within the discipline. (Or maybe "circular" isn't the right word - instead, perhaps "suspect" or "self-serving" might be more appropriate.)

Or, perhaps the goal of English Studies is to produce meaningful scholarship about the challenging and complex field of symbolic goods. Or just books. Or whatever.

But then what is "meaningful scholarship"? Does it have to concern itself with the ways that older texts are built on racist beliefs, sexist language, nationalist values, etc.? No. This pursuit is valuable in pursuit of political goals, but not as an end in itself. It means nothing to say, "Here is a racist text," or "Huckleberry Finn presents racist values." What does that mean? What does it accomplish?

Then I suppose we have a preliminary checklist of things that English Studies should be doing:

1. As "work," it should seek to accomplish something. (We aren't entirely sure what it should accomplish.)

2. It should attempt to produce evidence of that accomplishment so that others, who are not given the opportunity to contemplate these texts to the extent that professors are, can learn from that accomplishment. It should also produce this evidence so that other scholars can see what has come before, and attempt to go beyond without merely repeating the work of others.

3. It should seek to interrogate the role of imaginative literature (still an unclear term that we aren't ready to define) in the production and dissemination of culture, though such interrogation (as the more rigorous and social-science-oriented Sociology of Literature) cannot ever be conclusive or proven in the sense that a lab experiment can prove a hypothesis.

I'm not making this entirely clear yet, but I think I've made a few centimeters of progress in my own thinking through writing this out. I will think more about this, try to read a little about this, and come back with some more thoughts.

Posting old postings

I'm going to begin this blog with some postings that I made in a separate blog. I was thinking that I liked the idea of keeping things apart, but I'm not liking that idea anymore. So I'll be posting ideas from my "bkglobal" blog here as quotes to try to centralize things for myself (and, if you're reading this, for you). I'll try to post it as re-readings, keeping in the spirit of the blog.