Phi Beta Cons

Who or What is Killing Literary Criticism?

An article in the Nation occasioned by the 20th anniversary reissue of Gerald Graff’s Professing Literature states that the profession of academic literary criticism is slowly dying.
If this is true, it is akin to a situation in which I burn down my house and then find its property value plummeting. If literature studies is dying, it’s because a large part of the professoriate gave up on literature long ago. They denied it was anything special and declared it no more deserving of study than television and street signs. They politicized it and claimed it either promoted so-called progressive ideas or was disgracefully reactionary. They deconstructed its meaning and found it to be about nothing. And now and again they would declare its total irrelevance.
I recall one wise person saying after a faculty meeting: Do these people realize that they are arguing themselves out of existence — actually promoting ideas that would obviate the need for them to teach what they have been trained to teach, and that would mandate the hiring of people who would teach entirely different things, most prominently various newly-formed area and interdisciplinary studies in which the specific value of literature is downgraded? Cultures die from within, when they no longer believe and promulgate their highest principles.


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