If English literature is not a common pursuit—not a “great tradition,” to use Leavis’s other famous title—then what is it doing in the curriculum? What is the rationale for studying it?It was the post-modern acolytes of Literary Theory, not unsurprisingly, who began the mania for deconstructing everything, and questioning the existence of coherent beliefs of any kind. In such an environment, nothing is coherent, everything is an extra, and losses are social constructions. Rod Dreher elaborates.
My own career (so called) suggests the answer. Namely: where there is no common body of knowledge, no common disciplinary conceptions, there is nothing that is indispensable. Any claim to expertise is arbitrary and subject to dismissal. After twenty-four years of patiently acquiring literary knowledge—plus the five years spent in graduate school at Northwestern, “exult[ing] over triumphs so minor,” as Larry McMurtry says in Moving On, “they would have been unnoticeable in any other context”—I have been informed that my knowledge is no longer needed. As Cardinal Newman warned, knowledge really is an end in itself. I fill no gap in the department, because there is no shimmering and comprehensive surface of knowledge in which any gaps might appear. Like everyone else in English, I am an extra, and the offloading of an extra is never reported or experienced as a loss.
If there is a collapse in the university humanities — and it seems as if that is coming very soon, if not already upon us — then one has to reflect on how the humanities departments have brought it on themselves.Meanwhile, Professor Myers contemplates his sudden loss of identity.
I can easily see making the case for why one should study Dante, and Shakespeare, and Milton, and Austen, and all the others. I cannot see why anyone should study that trendy bullshit above until and unless they’ve mastered the Tradition.
For twenty-four years I have been an English professor. Come the spring, what will I be? My colleagues will barely notice that I am gone, but what they have yet to grasp is that the rest of the university will barely notice when they too are gone, or at least severely reduced in numbers—within the decade, I’d say.Never mind the English department, Professor. The Central Ohio O Scale Engineers are nearby, and model railroading is not possible without coherent beliefs.
Let us begin with the Litany of Scales: Zero, Nothing, How Ordinary, Satisfactory, Outstanding, Gross.
Catechism continues at the Cold Spring Shops on a regular basis.