William Deresiewicz makes several generalizations, including that the job market for faculty positions in English departments is subject to the "whatever-works grab bag" of various specialties positions in cultural and world literature, film studies and visual studies, science fiction and fantasy, and children's literature. Deresiewicz appears to believe that scholars with concentrations in these fields have nothing to offer to English departments, and moreover, that English departments have no place for these fields. In fact, Deresiewicz goes on to claim that "the profession's intellectual agenda is being set by teenagers." This claim in itself seems harsh, despite the fact that it matches the general narrative voice of the article, and it is not verified by any sort of research. What teenagers are setting these "intellectual agenda[s]?" Is there some sort of survey conducted that can qualify this claim? In other words, is the number of teenagers who get unlimited texting plans with their phones proportional to the number of "digital humanities" faculty positions open each year?
Focusing on the "whatever-works grab bag" of subgenres in English faculty positions, Deresiewicz claims that this "grab bag" does not necessarily fit in the box of the perceptions of English departments. However, these subgenres as a whole in actuality can be enlightening and refreshing. Certainly Deresiewicz, being a scholar, is familiar with at least some writings in these fields, such as film studies or science fiction, and perhaps even recognizes that the criticisms and scholarly work researched and written in these fields are actually interesting and valid in the scope of what English departments teach. But Deresiewicz goes on to state that these subgenres are "incommensurate categories flailing about in unrelated directions--apples, machine parts, sadness, the square root of two." It seems that Deresiewicz should realize, before making these claims, that scholars in these "incommensurate categories" can be perceived by some as more proportionate to each other than first appears.
To provide an example the connectivity and relativity of these subgenres to the perceived imperviousness of the English department, I will draw on Deresiewicz's own reference. Deresiewicz states that "no major theoretical school has emerged in the eighteen years since Judith Butler's Gender Trouble." It is interesting that Deresiewicz references Judith Butler as the last scholar to provide revolutionary theory, considering Judith Butler greatly influenced the film studies field. Deresiewicz claims that the English departments incorporation of film studies was some sort of scheme or "subterfuge." He also lumps film studies in the "whatever-works grab bag," as "visual/performance studies." It is evident that, like anything else not neatly fitting inside his narrow viewpoint, Deresiewicz does not feel film studies belongs in the English department. However, the last scholar to provide a new way of thinking, Judith Butler, contributed the article, "Gender is Burning: Questions of appropriation and Subversion" to Feminist Film Theory.
What I finally want to ask Deresiewicz is this: what about the young scholars, the ones researching and writing in these other areas such as film studies, who recognize that time actually goes by, and, gasp, things change? To insinuate that these genres are somehow beneath what should be academics is both offensive and elitist. Also, to generalize change so harshly to claim that teenagers are determining the direction of English academics is ignorant and foolish. Consider this, Dr. Deresiewicz, if you can put yourself so humbly in someone else's shoes. If you did not have the privilege to be among the informed elite, who so obviously have the answers to all the world's problems, would you recognize that for a graduate student who is 23 years old, film studies or world lit or science fiction might actually be interesting? Because hearing the same lecture about Shakespeare and Brontë and Joyce might be well and good for you, but I am frankly sick of the old. I wish you luck in the future, when everyone like me rises up and essentially destroys the jobs of elitist, close-minded professors like yourself. Oh, I forgot, you're not a professor anymore.
Sep 20 2009 - 1:30pm