The Corner


Why Literary Scholarship Matters

(Dreamstime image: Yulan)

Like much of the rest of education in America, the field of literature has fallen under the influence of “progressive” thinkers. It is dangerous to one’s career in academia if you don’t mouth the strange notions of the likes of Foucault and Derrida and instead prefer to read literature without such ideological overlay.

It’s even harder to get a book published. Professors Duke Pesta and Thomas Martin have written a book entitled “The Renaissance and the Postmodern,” which (Professor Pesta has told me) was extremely difficult to get past the P.C. gatekeepers. Thankfully, they persevered and English professor Robert V. Young writes about it for the Martin Center in this essay.

Young writes of the postmoderns,

The general effect of their ideas on literary study has been to question the distinction between imaginative literature and other forms of written discourse, to undermine our sense that written documents of any kind convey a clear, stable meaning, and, finally, to maintain, in conjunction with Marxism, that all texts are the products of the material forces of history rather than the conscious intentions of authors. By demonstrating that the literary ideas of Renaissance authors themselves provide far more convincing accounts of their works than interpretations based on postmodern theory, Martin and Pesta provide important insights into the sources of the cultural decadence with which we grapple today.

If students learn that every writing is somehow political and supports the numerous “isms” that they believe are to blame for our ills (capitalism, racism, ableism, etc.), it’s easy to see why they readily take up bullhorns to protest people they are certain must be evil.

Among the harmful ideas implanted by the postmodernists, Young points to the lunatic furor over “cultural appropriation” and the demands for various rights springing from the concept of “the interchangeability of the sexes.”

Young concludes,

Martin and Pesta have provided a shrewd, insightful analysis of how Renaissance scholars under the influence of postmodernism have mainly succeeded only in distorting the literary works that they purport to study. While they only discuss academic study of Renaissance literature, they provide us with a basis for judging how literary scholarship matters in the wider world.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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