Also, in a few short takes (well, they were supposed to be short....):
- RK has brought to my attention the British project of restoring a valued portrait of John Donne, which is especially intriguing for those of us with an interest such matters;
- The Weekly Standard has a review of the new book on F.R. Leavis, and though Leavis is by-and-large a figure of much (deserved) distaste, the central problem of the article on it warrants concern here, specifically that of the professionalization of literary studies. A dozen years ago, I'd surely have argued with great vigour and pompousity about the virtues of it; now, however, I'm much, much less certain, and in fact increasingly inclined to argue for the need for the informed amateur reader in cultural discussion. Academic studies of literature these days do tend to belong more to the social sciences than to literary studies proper, as evidenced most plainly by the sickening consolidation of English Departments into cheaper, broader and sillier departments with the label "Cultural Studies." Wonder if your local English department has been so debased? Check its course calendar and see if it is offering more courses in graphic novels and the Oprah Effect than on Sterne or Milton; if the former, it is not an English department really, but a pastiche of one. I'm all for interdisciplinarity-- up until the point at which such interdisciplinarity becomes little more than a means to study everything but literature, otherwise known as the interdisciplinarity that evades discipline. If this makes me sound like a crank à la Harold Bloom, so be it.
- ... And as if by example: this article from the BBC on The Simpsons reminds me all-too-well of the persistent over-reaching by so many contemporary punditistes. Make no mistake: I love The Simpsons as much as anyone, but articles like this one neglect the obvious for the sake of pursuing the grandiose. The obvious, in this case, is the first rule of modern comedy: Whatever else you're trying to do, always get the laugh first.In the case of The Simpsons, that very often means going for the ridiculous joke just because it's there. Such articles smack to me of Pirandello: they're about six observations in search of a proclamation.
- Of last, in full disclosure, such things are the sorts of statements I used to make when I was an academic nipper. I try not to make them too much now, even if I occasionally lapse into doing so. Sometimes I think the desperate quest to demonstrate one's relevance indicates desperation-- and effectively renders the quest an act of self-service rather than one of intellectual service.