Stanley Fish brings us glad tidings from the Modern Language Association. To be clear, Fish is not attending the meeting; he is reporting on the program.
This morning he tells us that literature teachers are heeding the lesson of the marketplace and revising their attitude.
Gone are the days of political correctness and multicultural drivel. Back are serious studies of serious literature, mixed with a little digital awareness.
“Also absent or sparsely represented are the topics that in previous years dominated the meeting and identified the avant garde — multiculturalism, postmodernism, deconstruction, post-colonialism, neo-colonialism, racism, racialism, feminism, queer theory, theory in general. Just as members of the lay public have gotten used to postmodernism as an omnibus term for everything new and discombobulating, a panel blithely entitled ‘The Novel After Postmodernism’ (what, so soon?) promises ‘to approach the general question of the end of postmodernism’.”
“I remember, with no little nostalgia, the days when postmodernism in all its versions was the rage and every other session at the MLA convention announced that in theory’s wake everything would have to change: old questions were revealed to be based on a mistaken belief in the stability of texts and the self-identity of authors; rock-solid procedures and methodologies were shown to rest on the shifting sands of history; canonical authors were dislodged from their pedestals and exposed as racists, misogynists and apologists for empire; the canon itself was condemned as an artifact of patriarchal politics; and the practitioners of traditional criticism (yesterday’s stars, today’s relics) were denounced for being complicit with every evil known to humankind.”
Does this mean that literary humanists are going to abandon their plans to indoctrinate students in the dogmas of radical politics?
That would be one step too far.
But they are beginning to recognize the stark reality. Fewer and fewer students want to major in literature. Fewer and fewer students want to take their courses. Budgets will shrink. Graduate students will not be able to get teaching jobs.
The free market is giving them new choice: reform or perish. Teach great literature, help students to hear what the great poets and novelists and playwrights are telling them, keep you own jejune political opinions to yourself… or else, Humanities departments will become an academic relic.