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March 29, 2009

A Reader's Manifesto; Enough with the "Literary" Fiction

A Reader's Manifesto - The Atlantic (July/August 2001)

For years now editors, critics, and prize jurors, not to mention novelists themselves, have been telling the rest of us how lucky we are to be alive and reading in these exciting times. The absence of a dominant school of criticism, we are told, has given rise to an extraordinary variety of styles, a smorgasbord with something for every palate. As the novelist and critic David Lodge has remarked, in summing up a lecture about the coexistence of fabulation, minimalism, and other movements, "Everything is in and nothing is out." Coming from insiders to whom a term like "fabulation" actually means something, this hyperbole is excusable, even endearing; it's as if a team of hotel chefs were getting excited about their assortment of cabbages. From a reader's standpoint, however, "variety" is the last word that comes to mind, and more appears to be "out" than ever before. More than half a century ago popular storytellers like Christopher Isherwood and Somerset Maugham were ranked among the finest novelists of their time, and were considered no less literary, in their own way, than Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. Today any accessible, fast-moving story written in unaffected prose is deemed to be "genre fiction"—at best an excellent "read" or a "page turner," but never literature with a capital L. An author with a track record of blockbusters may find the publication of a new work treated like a pop-culture event, but most "genre" novels are lucky to get an inch in the back pages of The New York Times Book Review. . . .

This is another great essay, yearning to be read.

Are universities factories for corporate drones?

Higher Education Gone Wrong: Universities Are Turning into Corporate Drone Factories | Corporate Accountability and WorkPlace | AlterNet

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. Our press, which should promote such intellectual and moral questioning, confuses bread and circus with news and refuses to give a voice to critics who challenge not this bonus payment or that bailout but the pernicious superstructure of the corporate state itself. We kneel before a cult of the self, elaborately constructed by the architects of our consumer society, which dismisses compassion, sacrifice for the less fortunate, and honesty. The methods used to attain what we want, we are told by reality television programs, business schools and self-help gurus, are irrelevant. Success, always defined in terms of money and power, is its own justification. The capacity for manipulation is what is most highly prized. And our moral collapse is as terrifying, and as dangerous, as our economic collapse.

Theodor Adorno in 1967 wrote an essay called "Education After Auschwitz." He argued that the moral corruption that made the Holocaust possible remained "largely unchanged." He wrote that "the mechanisms that render people capable of such deeds" must be made visible. Schools had to teach more than skills. They had to teach values. If they did not, another Auschwitz was always possible.

"All political instruction finally should be centered upon the idea that Auschwitz should never happen again," he wrote. "This would be possible only when it devotes itself openly, without fear of offending any authorities, to this most important of problems. To do this, education must transform itself into sociology, that is, it must teach about the societal play of forces that operates beneath the surface of political forms." . . .

March 28, 2009

Modern Scholarship, in a nutshell

Note from the teacher | Shipment of Fail

March 27, 2009

How did Sonnets from the Portuguese get its name?

How books got their titles

Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a competent translator, producing, among other works, versions of Aeschylus and Chaucer. Sonnets from the Portuguese, however, was not among her translations. The title was a cover for the author’s own love-poems to Robert Browning, one of which was her famous ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways’ (no. 43). The choice of ‘Portuguese’ was significant. Robert Browning’s nickname for Elizabeth was ‘the Portuguese’, in reference to a poem of hers published before they had met, ‘Catarina to Camoens’ . . .