English Matters

An Opinion on Opinions

[Ed. note: The post below is offered as part of our ongoing series of opinion pieces.  This and other such opinion pieces reflect the author’s own views, and do not necessarily represent the opinion of ACCUTE or its membership; they are offered in hopes of generating discussion among our members.]

I suspect that, as ACCUTE members, we could all easily spin out fairly accurate parodies of the usual sorts of attacks we see against the study of English, and against the humanities in general.  Every time a new one appears, I sigh with the weariness of one whose lowest expectations continue to be met by the tired repetition of the usual rehash of a half-formed, ill-informed critique.   So common are they, in fact, that even this opinion piece repeats language I used several months ago in a response (unpublished…. sigh) to just such an “analysis.”

My sighs turned to a grimace (again) at the recent appearance of a well-known columnist’s version of this well-more-than-twice-told tale. Of course, opinion need not be rigorous reporting, but still one expects something more than ill-tempered political posturing masquerading as considered contemplation.  We all know the “argument”: high culture (usually defined as what the author studied in the halcyon days of youth, generally limited to a small—most often white and male—subset of the cultural field) and the study thereof should be frozen in amber, carefully placed out of the light and away from other, less deserving, forms of culture and analysis, lest their brilliance—and the op-ed writer’s brilliant reflection thereof—become faded, with simultaneous ire thrown in the direction of scholars who might not only appreciate those other (or othered…) forms of culture, but who may even have different opinions on why culture matters to begin with.  The horror.

As I wrote during that previous outbreak of this particular petulance, we all also know many brilliant scholars and writers with real insights on education, culture, and society, who discuss a wide range of fascinating material in engaging and edifying ways, and who, moreover, keep up-to-date on scholarship and research and so can speak to the realities rather than the myths of contemporary culture and postsecondary education.   Why can’t the papers of record hire some of them to write truly exciting and important opinions, rather than continue to publish this kind of dreck?

Well, I won’t link to the latest versions of this tasteless tripe.  Enough with feeding the click-bait trolls.  Frankly, we deserve a better quality of critic.

But, I will definitely link to one of those brilliant scholars mentioned above: our colleague Erin Wunker, and her open letter calling a particular instantiation to task.  Thank you, Erin.

–Jason Haslam

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