Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lit, rhet/comp: can't we all please get along?

Marc Bosquet's grandly titled "The Moral Panic in Literary Studies" at the Chronicle raises the specter of "senior members" of English Departments who still can't see the value of rhetoric and composition. Shorter Bosquet: those departments will be on their way to extinction, because they're basically demonizing the future of the discipline.
In the past year or two, in meetings with English graduate faculty members and students at would-be top programs similar to ours, I’ve had innumerable conversations with otherwise rational but anxious people who consider those involved in the renaissance of comp-rhet or digital publication as dullards not good enough to read poetry, as lowbrow opportunists, or—worse—as saintly philanthropists who "should be appreciated for their love of teaching first-year writing."
 Say what? I have heard about these mythical creatures--let's call them the harrumphing literary old duffer--for twenty years, and, while I don't doubt they exist, I've never seen one.  This may be a testament to my general cluelessness (likely) and to the collegial quality of the departments I've been fortunate enough to be associated with (very likely), which have valued both sides of the Great Divide. 

You can't teach several dozen writing courses over the years and not value the contributions that rhet/comp has made. On the other hand, there's value in literary studies, too. 

Can you talk about literature without talking about rhetorical principles? Don't the two complement each other?

Aren't the humanities in enough trouble without picking a fight about who gets the remaining deck chairs?


Spanish prof said...

Without getting into the general argument, one of Bousquet's colleagues at Emory is Mark Bauerlein, who has spent years trying to be Allan Bloom 2.0. So I am sure it does happen at Emory

undine said...

Now it makes sense! Mark Bauerlein--he's appeared on this blog before and not in a good way. Thanks for the context.

Anonymous said...

Lucky you to work in a collegial place! I lived these fights at a previous university. And I think my current department is on the verge.

undine said...

Anon--I hope your department doesn't go over the edge.

Seth Kahn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth Kahn said...

[Let's try that again, this time with proofreading!]

"You can't teach several dozen writing courses over the years and not value the contributions that rhet/comp has made."

Oh, how I wish that were true. You can teach a zillion writing courses, and if nothing ever challenges you to think differently about what you're doing in them, you could teach every one of them without knowing what contributions rhet/comp might have made. And what I also wish were true--that some people actively didn't resist the contributions that rhet/comp has made. Bill Thelin, among others, has documented the staying power of current-traditional rhetoric in programs run by people who have long understood why that's not a very good thing.

undine said...

Seth Kahn--I'd hope that people would value those contributions, especially if the department spreads the word about them, but maybe not. I haven't read Bill Thelin's study, so thank you for the reference.