Monday, April 7, 2014

On the Academic Hostility to Great Literature

From Dr. Anthony Esolen:
When I attended Princeton, it was as Father C. J. McCloskey once described it to me, with a matter-of-fact smile.  It was an evil place.  But stupidity was still far away.  The English department offered only real, solid courses, in genuinely great literature.  And some of them were hugely popular.  Freshman Shakespeare, the course most students took to fulfill their composition requirement (I placed out of that one), was thronged with hundreds of young people who adored the lecturer and actor, Daniel Seltzer.  John Fleming’s Chaucer course had eighty or ninety students in it, many of them not English majors.  Walton Litz’s course in the modernists Eliot, Pound, Frost, and Yeats had to be held in a large auditorium, with the master of ceremonies declaiming great poetry from the stage.  Thomas Roche’s course in Spenser had about 35 students—Spenser!

And now I find that, this spring at Old Nassau, there are only three upper-level English courses with an enrollment of more than twenty.  One is a course in Nabokov (30), cross-listed with Slavic Studies.  One is Shakespeare (66).  The third is a course in junky kid-lit (395).  The department is stocked with people who teach literature as everything under the sun except for literature—gender this and class that.  Even Princetonians seem bright enough to tune it out.  The trash is piling up, and there’s hardly a warm body left to take it to the curb. (Read more.)

1 comment:

Stephanie A. Mann said...

So glad I earned my MA when and where I did, actually reading and trying to understand great literature, not tear it down! We studied literature as though there was an author and she had something to say--I think one influence on this was that the MA and MFA students mingled in classes and activities. When the faculty are teaching writers to write, they also teach readers to read.