Dear Social Justice Warriors of Yale...

Discussion in 'Literary Fiction' started by Extollager, Jun 2, 2016.

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  1. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Yale English students call for end of focus on white male writers

    Thank you. You have motivated me to begin a rereading today of Paradise Lost.

    As for yourselves, surely you do not need to run up vast expenses (granted, the money is probably someone else's, not your own) to study things about which you have already made up your minds, or rather, as deep inhalers of the atmosphere of the age, had your minds made up for you.

    Your profound incuriosity about other times and understandings is remarkable. Evidently you suppose either that you already know Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, and others so well that you need not concern yourselves with them; or you suppose that they have nothing to say to people who think as you do. That latter possibility might be true, but if so it is not true in a sense that is flattering to you.

    Allow me to suggest, Yale students of English, that, if you really are moved by the troubles of the groups you specify, you donate the money that would have gone into your education in programs and action that really help, e.g. charter schools in impoverished neighborhoods.

    With impatient best wishes.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
  2. Ray Pullar

    Ray Pullar Licensed operator

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    Social Justice Warriors of Yale by John Norman coming soon!
     
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  3. Brian G Turner

    Brian G Turner He's a very naughty boy! Staff Member

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    It's a good criticism to make - it's long been commented on that most classic English fiction (certainly pre-1800's) is exclusively about the writings of rich, white men. Not always straight, though. :)

    In which case, the obvious suggestion is to ensure such a course is balanced not just with reading where we've been, but where modern literature is headed. And that means ensuring a good list of varied fiction dealing with hard-hitting modern themes.

    Or even varying the study list to be more comprehensive and representative of English printed literature, rather than parroting the same lists of classics which - as the Guardian piece points out - is rarely questioned or challenged.

    However, the Guardian piece also comments that the canon takes up 2 semesters - so presumably there should be material far more challenging in the other ones?
     
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  4. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    The darlings can study the raceclassandgender stuff on their own time. Indeed it is unavoidable on campuses. Time taken up during college classes with such material steals time from older authors whose language, historical, intellectual, political, and religious background, etc. are different from ours such that we can really benefit from sound scholarship devoted to them and from time to deal deeply with them. Do the math. Yale is proposing about three or four weeks per major author. Is that enough for Chaucer et al.? Conversely, what is there in the contemporary authors--which is mostly what the Yale undergrads are really talking about--that requires an expensive education in order for one to understand it? Is it not pretty much a foregone conclusion already as to what the students expect to receive from studying these authors? And who knows if Audre Lorde et al. will stand the test of time. The students' demands are largely narcissistic. Narcissism mixed with self-righteous ignorance and politics is a strong but not very subtle cocktail.

    Notice that the students aren't asking for courses in raceclassandgender. Those are already in place. They are saying they shouldn't have to read older and more demanding literature. They don't want an English degree but they want their degree to be called English, it seems. I doubt that they have much of a basis to know what they are rejecting, but I am sure they already know what they would be getting if they got their way.
     
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  5. svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    But is older literature more demanding?
     
  6. Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    Than current mass market, yes.
    Than current "supposed literary works" probably not.
    For a start one has to have an appreciation of the cultural context of the time it was written, not apply today's "context". Also to an extent know what the words meant then rather than now.

    I suppose before WWII, the vast bulk of English Language fiction (not all) was from either white people settled in USA whose parents had adopted English, or from people of British / Irish origin (in the British Isles, or Canadian, Australian, African, Indian settlers etc)

    Literacy of other Ethnic groups increased very rapidly after WwII
    CABS was started in 1941 (scroll down) and quickly became part of a literacy movement in Sub Saharan Africa. There was a huge economic growth and increase in English Literacy in Africa in the 1950s. I don't know when literacy was extended to various ethnic groups not of European origin in the USA. I presume from early 20th C.?
    English literacy hugely increased in Middle East, China and rest of Asia from end of WWII.

    I presume what ever is written in Russian, Hindi or Chinese isn't particularly relevant to "English".
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
  7. MWagner

    MWagner Well-Known Member

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    This is what I find so irrational about this sort of criticism.

    We know women were excluded from education and the arts of for much of history. That was bad. It was wrong. But it does mean that most everyone who wrote enduring works was a man, and probably a rich, white man. So to then turn around and say you don't want to read work by white men means that what you're really saying is you don't want to read anything old. Because it's only recently that women have had the opportunity to write.

    It's one of those puzzling and rather daft paradoxes of identity politics: We must recognize historical oppression. But to recognize the consequences of historical oppression (in this case, the historical preponderance of white males in academia and the arts) is Wrong Think.
     
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  8. svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    Agree. However shouldn't room be made for modern lit. Writers such as Gore Vidal are just as equally demanding as say Thomas Hardy.

    Or maybe they are included on the course.
     
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  9. MWagner

    MWagner Well-Known Member

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    But the Western Canon is incredibly diverse in thought and philosophy. It's a no-holds-barred arena of dispute, where each new idea is challenged and torn to pieces by the next, and where every influential thinker has a counterpart who hews to opposite beliefs. Only someone of abyssal ignorance could claim that Rousseau, Hobbes, Kant, and Nietzsche represent some sort of homogeneous school of thought (I'm not claiming anyone here is doing that). This is exactly the conclusion David Denby came to when he took a year out of his life to go back to his alma mater of Columbia University and take the Great Works course, which was already under fire politically back in 1991. The book he wrote about his experience, Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World, is not only his personal experience of reading the Western Canon, but a journalistic account of how the other (and much younger) students grappled with the works, and about culture and history. I can't recommend it highly enough.

    If people are so intellectually impoverished that they can't conceive of people of the same race and gender having dramatically different arguments and beliefs from one another, if they really think that your race, ethnicity, or gender is the paramount trait you bring to any discourse, then I'm at a loss to explain what they hope to achieve in university in the first place. Hang out with people who already think like the do and burnish one another's self-esteem? Because being challenged clearly isn't on the agenda.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
  10. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    In many cases, yes. Here are some reasons why:

    1.Vocabulary and grammar have changed. Not only do Shakespeare and Milton use unfamiliar words, they use familiar words in unfamiliar ways (e.g. "nature," "wit," "degree," etc.). It is easy to read them superficially. Conversely, if we attend to the words and learn what they meant to the earlier readers, we may find our way ever more deeply into an unfamiliar countryside of knowledge, wisdom, sentiment, and understanding. Grammar in Shakespeare's day, say, seems to have been more flexible as compared with our habits that have been conditions by teachers of only modest literary attainment at best, by advertising and business, etc. I recommend Owen Barfield's History in English Words and Poetic Diction.

    2.The poets often worked with demanding conventions that our poets no longer attempt. It takes time to understand what the older poets were up to and really to accept that they didn't seek to be difficult in order to daunt posterity needlessly. Recommended: Paul Fussell's Poetic Meter and Poetic Form.

    2a: For the enjoyment of Shakespeare it's really important to get a sense of the Elizabethan-Jacobean stage. Recommended: S. L. Bethell's Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition.

    3.The older poets believed in poetry as a vocation, and that a key part of that vocation was to stock their minds with knowledge of history, mythology, astronomy, geography, natural philosophy/science, religion, etc. Footnotes can help us here but ideally we should recover more and more of what they read, reading it for ourselves. For example, I recommend the reading of Plato and later Platonists. Recommended (just a few suggestions): Plato, The Republic, The Symposium, etc.; also Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy; also Marco Polo's Travels; and of course the Bible. Explore other sources. One that was often part of the mental background of older authors, but is almost unknown to today's students and their teachers: the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus. All of these are available in Penguin Classics or the like. C. S. Lewis's The Discarded Image is an excellent prolegomenon for the study of medieval and Renaissance literature.

    If this sounds arduous, it is, but it is also delightful.

    4.One needs to unlearn, at least provisionally, a great deal of unexamined assumptions, etc. that cloud our minds and hinder our receptivity. I could mention a lot of books here, but, to be brief, will suggest the first chapters of E. F. Schumacher's A Guide for the Perplexed and Owen Barfield's Saving the Appearances.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
  11. WaylanderToo

    WaylanderToo Well-Known Member

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    fantastic comment...

    I think maybe that if you have a problem studying white male writers then English Literature isn't the best choice.


    IMO this has nailed it.
     
  12. MWagner

    MWagner Well-Known Member

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    And before we get our noses too out of joint, it's worth keeping in mind that the petition was signed by 160 students, and Yale has a student body of 12,000. Identity politics zealots are given a disproportionally large platform by the media to express their dogma.
     
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  13. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    By the way, I have posted the script of a podcast talk that I've used in several literature courses, here:

    "Orientation" Before Literary Studies

    I think the obsession with raceclassandgender works against the imagination; but there are some simple things that people can do to help them become more receptive to literature and more able to become free and lively in their imaginations--some of them not having to do with reading.
     
  14. MWagner

    MWagner Well-Known Member

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    If I had my way, every piece of journalism, every academic study, and every work of art would be published anonymously. Take personality and identity out the picture entirely, and engage only with the content.
     
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  15. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Now that's radical. Could get you fired, like saying that all lives matter.
     
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  16. mosaix

    mosaix Shropshire, U.K.

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    A couple of points:

    1) They're kids, just becoming adults

    2) We expect them to start having opinions of their own and to start thinking for themselves. Don't be surprised when they do and don't be surprised when their opinions and thoughts aren't the same as ours.

    3) Education is, or should be, a two-way process.
     
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  17. Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    Except these are "received propaganda", like Mao's Cultural revolution teenagers. No different. It's probably rarely their own opinion. They are being manipulated.
     
  18. svalbard

    svalbard Well-Known Member

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    Everyone is manipulated to some extent, except the clever people call it influencing.
     
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  19. mosaix

    mosaix Shropshire, U.K.

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    Just your opinion Ray, just your opinion. :)
     
  20. Ray McCarthy

    Ray McCarthy Sentient Marmite: The Truth may make you fret.

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    I came up with it on my own rather than parroting the Student's Union. :D
     
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