September 24, 2007

Aesthetics of Sequels

This thread actually dipped into something vaguely philosophical about the Law of Crappy Sequels and the Larry David Time Travel Problem.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:01 PM | Comments (4)

Micro-Targeted Spam

In the blizzard of spam I just deleted, among "tutto porno," "dimensioni pene," and "il dept of corrections" there was one with the title of this fine album. How did they know that this blog was a lucrative market for clarinet duos? Also "Louie Prima."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2007

The Canon

Perhaps this belongs at the other blog, but it's reasonably serious and there's nothing here so....

via Henry Farrell, this article on The Closing of the American Mind and the canon wars multiculturalism blah blah contains this bit:

The invasion of politics has been particularly notable in the literature curriculum. On campus today, the emphasis is very much on studying literature through the lens of “identity” — ethnic, gender, class. There has also been a decided shift toward works of the present and the recent past. In 1965, the authors most frequently assigned in English classes were Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope and T. S. Eliot, according to a survey by the National Association of Scholars, an organization committed to preserving “the Western intellectual heritage.” In 1998, they were Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jane Austen, Milton, Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison.

But is this an example of politicizing the curriculum, or of the absolute minimum argument for multiculturalism: that a reading list of only white males is missing out on things that should be in the canon? That is to say, the most anodyne argument for multiculturalism in lit studies is that, because our society is dominated by men and white people, we've tended to overvalue the contributions of men and white people; but if we make an effort to look at what's been written by other people we'll find things that are equally great, by whatever measure of greatness you choose. Multiculturalism can serve Quality rather than being opposed to it.

Compare the two lists again: Dryden, Pope, and Eliot have been swapped out for Austen, Woolf, and Morrison. From the standpoint of Quality is that so obviously a bad trade? I confess that I haven't read much Dryden or Pope, but what I have read of them and Eliot didn't seem obviously more worthy than the women that replaced them. And it's just ridiculous to say that studying Austen and Woolf is studying literature through the lens of gender. (I'm convinced of Morrison's greatness too, but she's very recent. I'd also like to know which of these is supposed to illustrate the move toward class studies.) And yet I remember, back in the 80s, reading an article in which someone used Woolf as an example of an inferior writer who got on the curriculum because she was a woman; when I read Woolf (because she was on the curriculum) I realized how silly this was.

Not to mention that the obvious shift here isn't that English departments read women, or more recent figures, but that they read novelists. All six figures on the 1965 list are poets.

I also wondered about this, later on:

Some say this kind of identity-based thinking is at odds with the true purpose of education — something canon traditionalists can misunderstand as badly as their multiculturalist opponents. “What Americans yearn for in literature is self-recognition,” said Mark Lilla, a professor of political philosophy and religion who just left the University of Chicago for Columbia. “That’s where the conservatives went wrong. The case for the canon itself isn’t a case for book camp and becoming a citizen in the West.” Wrestling with difficult, often inaccessible works is “the most alienating experience possible,” he continued. “When you read Toni Morrison, there’s no alienation. It affirms your Americanism.”

I'm guessing that Lilla's quote was mangled in being taken out of context, because I'm not able to make sense of it. I've read the "book camp" sentence several times. But at the end it sounds like he's saying that Toni Morrison's books are not difficult, and this is, you know, not true.

More interesting comments from Amy at Incertus; I particularly liked what she had to say about the vacuity of the zero-sum comment about inclusive syllabi.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:16 PM | Comments (7)