Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Belatedness of Criticism

In his recent article "Diminishing Returns in Humanities Research" in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mark Bauerlein laments what he sees as redundancy in a vast sea of literary criticism, which demonstrates
the shift from criticism-as-explanation to criticism-as-performance. Instead of thinking of scholarship as the explication of the object—what a poem means or a painting represents—humanists cast criticism as an interpretative act, an analytical eye in process.
Bauerlein argues that the overwhelming number of works comes from not only the demands of theory, but also as the consequence of the publish or perish imperative for those who seek tenure - especially for those experiencing belatedness in criticism. What to do when all the good stuff's been said?

For tenure decisions, Bauerlein recommends that committees look only at 100 pages of material. He further suggests that
subsidizers should shift their support away from saturated areas and toward unsaturated areas, in particular toward research into teaching and even more toward classroom and curricular initiatives.
The shift in subsidies should occur because the numbers of students who do not attend or pay attention in classes is quite staggering:
in the 2007 Your First College Year survey, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute, ...70 percent skipped class, 62 percent "came late," and 44 percent fell asleep. Their engagement with instructors outside of class is similarly tenuous. Their engagement with instructors outside of class is similarly tenuous. On the 2008 National Survey of Student Engagement, 38 percent of first-year students "never" discussed ideas from readings or classes, and 39 percent did so only "sometimes."

More "research into teaching and...classroom and curricular initiatives" as the solution to the problem puts the onus on faculty to somehow counter the effects of the digital age Bauerlein writes about in his book The Dumbest Generation.

The digital age and resulting drop in reading, the self-absorption in juvenile pursuits and interests are surely the business of faculty, but should hardly drive research in the humanities.

I agree with Bauerlein's premise that there is too much redundant performance criticism out there, but I do not agree with his solutions. Still, it is refreshing to see someone tackling the issues.

I would like to invite Mark Bauerlein to my soiree.


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