Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday round-up

Because all of my perceptions of U.S. politics tend to be filtered through The West Wing, I keep hoping in the midst of this health care train wreck that there will be a "Let Bartlet be Bartlet" moment for Obama. Except that the problem there is I think Obama is being Obama in this increasingly futile attempt at fashioning a bipartisan bill. Being conciliatory and accomodating is admirable, but not so much when those you're attempting to accomodate are essentially saying--out loud and publicly--that under no circumstances will they vote yes on any health care reform.

It's time to circle the wagons, use the majority, and beat the Blue Dogs with a hose until they toe the line. Where's Rahm "attack dog" Emanuel in all this?

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I'm now linking to Hendrik Hertzberg's blog at The New Yorker, because I'm reasonably certain that everything he says is right.

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A colleague of mine sent around this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education this morning, and I'm of two minds on it. On one hand it makes some excellent points about what in humanities academia has come to go by the rubric "professionalization" -- in short, a premium put on research and publishing, with the emphasis on volume and a hierarchy of value with peer-reviewed journals and academic presses at the top. What has resulted, the article argues, is a dizzying increase in scholarly publishing with a concomitant reduction in reading audience for this scholarship.

On one hand, I tend to agree that the elevation of peer-reviewed writing to the level of the sacrosanct tends to make literary scholarship increasingly specialized and obfuscatory. I further tend to think that professors have a responsibility to the larger community as public intellectuals, but that kind of writing and publishing doesn't happen when one is under the gun to get as many articles in peer-reviewed journals published as possible come tenure review time.

On the other hand, the article makes a few false distinctions. The question of "audience" for peer-reviewed work is a bit of a fallacy, because that's a bit beside the point. Speaking personally, my own motivation for research and writing and (ultimately, hopefully) publishing -- besides the carrot/stick of tenure and promotion -- is my own interest in my subject matter, and the desire to keep sharp for the sake of my students.

There's also a a false binary in the article between "interpretive" (which seems to be synonymous with New Criticism) and "performative" (which I take to mean "theoretical") reading. What about historcist scholarship? Or more sociological approaches? Or the simple fact that literature's relevance changes depending on the realities of our given historical moment? That is, after all, why we keep returning to Hamlet.

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