English Matters

Blog Post: ‘In Praise of Literature’

Do we have to “believe in literature” in order to “do” English Studies?  Has the study of literature been “pluralized to distraction.”?   U of Alberta Prof. Albert Braz discusses the decline of our discipline in his essay “In Praise of Literature“, in the November 2012 University Affairs.

What do you think? 

1 reply »

  1. I think Albert Braz makes a good point when he notes that teachers of literature are “uncertain” about what is it is that comprises “knowledge” in the humanities. Unlike Albert, though – whose work I very much admire in in part because he’s as interested in “writing from other literary traditions” as I am – I don’t find this uncertainty at all disabling, let alone paralyzing. For me, it’s the foundational principle we work with. My sense is that everyone who studies or teaches literature is necessarily committed to working with knowledge between the registers of certainty — to understanding ways of knowing beyond the established codes of cultural recognition, and to creating new ways of knowing as we proceed. When we are in uncertainty, we think we’re home.

    Braz does raise a huge question, though: WHY is the study of literature in decline? Any answer to this will be complex, but I would not start by looking inward within the discipline. I would look first at the structure of the corporate university, which increasingly understands its mission to be the production of human labour for service to the profit-taking motive, and which — along with its many corporate and government “partners” — goes out of its way to send its literature teachers messages of disparagement and denigration. Consider this latest attack: Florida Governor Rick Scott says that students enrolling in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) should pay LESS in the way of tuition than should students in Arts. even though Arts students are cheaper to educate! And why? Because of the assumption, writes Todd Pettigrew in Maclean’s On Campus at


    that “the main function of a degree is to qualify the graduate for a job in the knowledge economy.” “Knowledge.” “Economy.” As though those terms were just there. It’s precisely our training across the many and varied registers of what it is we now call “English Studies” that allows us to read this kind of messaging critically, and to teach that set of critical skills to our students.

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