Dec 7, 2005

The death of English

As an academic discipline.
This model of the English department, and the carefully chosen canon of great aesthetic works which comprised its content, has in most colleges and universities collapsed. The value and nature of our reading (that is, when English departments feature reading at all, film, television, music, and material culture courses having displaced to some extent written texts in many schools), has radically changed, with the inclusion of cheap detective novels and poorly written political essays, for instance, now routine in departments that used to disdain prose that exhibited little aesthetic complexity and/or stylistic distinction.

On the other end, there’s also now the inclusion of notoriously over-complex — to the point of unintelligibility, never mind stylistic ugliness — advanced critical texts in our courses. A character in Don DeLillo’s White Noise says of his university’s English department, “There are full professors in this place who do nothing but read cereal box tops.” But there are as many professors there who read nothing but the densest, most arcane, and most poorly written critical theory.
My career as an English major was largely untainted by political polemics or overly dense theory, but they had already begun making inroads into the field. I suppose nowadays I'd opt for something more practical, but less fun. And I'd still have to go to graduate school before I could make a decent living.

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