Offers historical and present-day perspectives on what English departments do, and how and why they do it.
These provocative essays explore the unwritten, often unacknowledged codes, conventions, and ideologies overseeing the evolution and current practice of English as a "discipline. " The first section of the book offers historical perspectives: how "composition" became distinguished from "literature," how key intellectuals shaped the discipline, and how various specialties—Renaissance literature, American literature, "theory"—became subfields. The second section focuses on how certain aesthetic categories of art and universal experience persist today in the actual teaching and writing of "English. " While it is fashionable to say that we are living in the age of poststructuralism, or that literary theory has delivered us from idealized conceptions of authorship and inherent meaning, these essays examine how these conceptions nevertheless remain and are transmitted: in different types of classroom settings, in textbooks, and in the self-fashioning of academic careers. At a time when the role and function of English departments have become matters of both academic and public debate, this book will be a welcome resource for students, professionals, and anyone interested in the Culture Wars of the past two decades.
David R. Shumway is Professor of English and Director of the Center for Cultural Analysis at Carnegie Mellon University. His books include Creating American Civilization: A Genealogy of American Literature as an Academic Discipline. Craig Dionne is Associate Professor of English at Eastern Michigan University.
"The collection successfully exposes the constructedness of the discipline in interesting historical specificity, and makes worthwhile reading for anyone engaged in reflection about what we do as professors of English. " — symploke
"Highly informed, fascinating, and enlightening—taken together, these essays tell an absorbing story of the shifts in the functioning of the discipline and of the changing roles of teachers, researchers, and intellectuals associated with the field over the past two centuries. " — Karlis Racevskis, author of Modernity's Pretenses: Making Reality Fit Reason from Candide to the Gulag
"Though English departments have recently been critiqued and deconstructed, there still seems something inevitable and eternal about many of their habits. These well-informed essays offer an eye-opening picture of how virtually everything we take for granted about 'English,' from the conventions of research to the marginality of composition to the idea of 'literature' itself, was once conceived very differently and thus might be again. " — Gerald Graff, University of Illinois at Chicago
"A number of Ph. D.–granting departments in the country are doing a significantly better job of educating graduate students about the daily realities of university work, but students need to know much more about why these so-called pragmatic concerns have become pragmatic, about what conditions of change are driving the reorganization of the university, and about what interventions might be possible. This book is a step toward providing that knowledge, in eminently readable form. " — Evan Watkins, author of Work Time: English Departments and the Circulation of Cultural Value