Apparently, Phyllis Schlafly did not get the memo about how I had handed her wrinkly old ass to her on a platter way back in the days after the Va Tech massacre, when she said that the English Department got what it deserved. She’s a real piece, that Phyllis.
She’s still playing the same tune. English departments blah blah sex blah blah liberals blah blah why don’t cute boys like me blah blah blah. It’s called Advice to College Students: Don’t Major in English. As a teacher in a college English department, I thought that this was worth taking time off of preparing for my 2.5 hour class tonight (ugh).
Phyllis complains (as if she could possibly give a shit about Shakespeare) “that Shakespeare has disappeared from required courses in English departments at more than three-fourths of the top 25 U.S. universities.” OK. Let’s look at what she is saying here. I am going to assume that she is talking about courses in the major. In a typical undergraduate major in English, there are typically a couple of required survey courses. At Notre Dame, where I went, these were Brit Lit 1 (Caedmon-Renaissance) and Brit Lit 2, Return of the Killer British Lit (Renaissance through the end of this blog). At the school where I currently teach, the only classes that are required of each and every student in the whole damn university are in the writing sequence, so of course you aren’t going to get Shakespeare there–I’m still teaching students how to use, commas. Reasonably, I can see an undergraduate major in lit having as many as 5 required classes, and this could be Brit Lit 1&2, American Lit 1&2, and even a possible post-colonial class (say, Irish lit, Australian writers, or writing from any other place where English took root), but this last one would only be on a KrAzY KaMpUs!!!!!!
Once you get past those requirements, you are pretty much free to take classes in whatever period, subject or author you want, and these include creative writing classes too.
In the Brit Lit 1 sequence, I can certainly see how a student might not read Shakespeare. The fetishization of Shakespeare…and don’t get me wrong, he’s really flipping great…love it….may be a little overblown. Sure, nobody ever slung a better sonnet, and King Lear is hilarious, but it’s hard to say that he must be the best writer ever, or even the best in that period. I know folks who would say that Marlowe stands up better, for instance. (Look him up, Phyllis.) I would like to also point out that most of the great writers in English have not been Shakespeare.
In the decades before “progressive” education became the vogue, English majors were required to study Shakespeare, the pre-eminent author of English literature. The premise was that students should be introduced to the best that has been thought and said.
Which is precisely why nobody ever teaches anything that Phyllis has ever said. And the standards vary, of course. Phyllis would get a titty hard-on if we were to teach Reagan’s campaign speeches every other year.
Universities deliberately replaced courses in the great authors of English literature with what professors openly call “fresh concerns,” “under-represented cultures,” and “ethnic or non-Western literature.”
And she thinks something is wrong with that. The “deliberately” part makes me think that Phyllis is moving down the road to Conspiracyville, and I have not come across the phrase “fresh concerns,” except perhaps in the context of doughnuts. (“The fact that these doughnuts, fair shopkeeper, are not fresh concerns me.”) She bitches about deconstruction. I bitch about deconstruction, but she, like the nag, bitch and shrew she is, completely mischaracterizes it. She says that deconstruction “pay[s] no mind to what the author wrote or meant; deconstruct him and construct your own interpretation,” which is horseshit. Indeed, you pay fanatical attention to the text (close reading) and then you ignore what the author meant and construct your own meaning (which is in itself completely as deconstructable as what you just deconstructed). So, please, Phyllis. The two are completely different. (Heheh.) Actually, I think deconstruction is a masturbatory literary exercise for people who like word games but don’t know what words actually mean. It has far too much currency in the English departments, and, if it should be allowed any room in an English curricula, it should be filed under creative writing, not analysis or criticism.
Then Phyllis goes about hand picking the craziest course titles (and some not so completely crazy course titles). For instance, Vanderbilt’s “Shakespearean Sexuality.” Of course, the characters play gender-bending games constantly in the plays and the female parts were originally written for and played by young boys in the Renaissance (sometimes you have a boy playing a woman playing a man–funk dat!), but surely such things could not possibly effect how how we read and understand the plays. And the sonnets…there is the whole gay thing going on in those, big time. I encourage you to look at Phyllis’ piece and check out some of the nifty classes that are being taught. There are some doozies. Then come back here and look at some of the undergraduate English classes that are actually being taught at colleges here in my hometown:
Journalism: Communications Internship
Advanced Writing: Fiction
Mellon Undergraduate Fellows Seminar
Undergraduate Honors Fellowship Seminar
Topics in Composition
Proseminar in Writing: Poetry (Webster)
Chief English Writers I
Introduction to Literary Study: Modern Texts, Contexts, and Critical Methods
The Art of Poetry
The Writing of the Indian Sub-continent
Topics in Asian-American Literature: Identity and Self-image
Topics in English & American Literature
Topics in American Literature
Topics in American Literature: Cold War Culture
American Literature to 1865
Selected English and American Writers
Topics in 19th Century American Writing
Two Cultures: Literature and Science
Masterpieces of Literature I
Masterpieces of Literature II
The Art of the Novel
The Art of Poetry
Epistolary Literature in the Eighteenth Century: Other Peoples’ Letters
Junior Honors Seminar
Eighteenth-century English Literature
Topics in American Literature I
Topics in English Literature I
Topics in English Literature II
Seminar: The Nineteenth Century
Seminar: American Literature
Craft of Fiction
Science Studies Literary Studies (Meyer)
Ethics of Literature
Yeah, pretty radical stuff that. St. Louis University has crazy courses like “Introduction to Short Fiction” and “Satire” and “World Literary Traditions III: This Time It’s Personal.” The other syllabi from the smaller schools are just as unremarkable and traditional.
To understand the filthy depths of Phyllis’s misrepresentation of literary studies, I encourage you to go back and read my “Phyllis Schlafly: Please Go Away.” You will see exactly why I can without irony or exaggeration say that she is either a lunatic or a liar with no respect for her audience’s intelligence. I suspect that she would say pretty much anything to make sure that we all bow down to the white phallus. For those of you getting acquainted with my blogging, and that is all of you, it’s one of the best things that I have done, and it was picked up by Crooks and Liars.