Tag Archives: comparative literature

Two faculty manifestos

Two distinguished professors, formerly of the ILA (and currently in English, Comparative Literature, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies), have published their thoughts on the meaning and value of interdisciplinary work in the liberal arts in a time of combined austerity and administrative bloat.

First, Walter Reed, laying down some Luther- or Spinoza-inspired “Theses on the Liberal Arts” for Durham University’s Centre for Humanities Innovation:

3.1 Teaching is the transmission of information, knowledge and (ideally) wisdom, either as ends in themselves or as the means to other ends. The traffic moves in both directions on this highway as well—from the masters to the disciples and from the certified professionals to those in training for certification, but also from the disciples back to the masters, from those in training back to the professionals. The balance between teaching and learning is dynamic and inherently unstable….

3.1.3 This dynamism and instability carry over to the relationship between emerging disciplinary specializations (new sub-fields within a discipline) and the disciplines as already established. New specializations both instruct and depend on older ones, though a balanced appreciation of the new and the old is difficult to maintain for those most closely involved. A similar dynamic instability informs interdisciplinary initiatives setting up shop between established disciplines. (Interdisciplinary inquiry is not the same as undisciplined study.)

And Michael Moon comments on “English Departments at a Crossroads”:

What some administrators currently mean by an “English department” seems to me in the main not to be a place or a project that serves the intellectual and professional needs of my students or myself very well. English departments turned out to serve the needs of faculty and students in queer studies for the first twenty years or so of my career in large part because many of them had – often through a process of prolonged conflict and division – turned themselves into major seedbeds of interdisciplinary growth during the 1970s and ‘80s, so that many fields which have since developed in varying degrees into autonomous disciplines, departments, and programs (critical theory, gender studies, lesbian and gay studies, queer theory, film and media studies, the whole spectrum of ethnic studies, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, etc.) spent their first decade or so as emergent academic fields as flourishing sub-projects of this or that English department.

So one feature of the current academic landscape that disturbs me is the relentless shutting-down of anglophone literary studies as the kind of expansive set of interdisciplinary intellectual spaces which they’ve provided at many universities for the past several decades….

Professor Moon’s piece comes courtesy of U to the Rescue, a blog curated by scholar-activist Christopher Newfield.


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David Mullins: Complexity pedagogy must define the university

David Mullins, an undergraduate student of comparative literature and one of the SRC’s most visible representatives, has sent us the text of his presentation at the symposium.

“Complexity Pedagogy Must Define the University”

Many commentators tend to talk about science and math as if they were neatly separable from language, liberal arts, and literature. That we can shorten column B (say liberal arts) and lengthen column A (say, science or business) and then we will have less B and more A. This presentation will argue that this is a bit of a devil’s bargain, and we will end up losing both. We will lose both because something that might be called complexity is both what the liberal arts excel at navigating, and that which underpins breakthroughs in science and business. so it is not that the liberal arts are somehow parasitic on scientific or economic breakthroughs, it’s actually precisely the opposite. That complexity, and creativity in the face of complexity, is the basis of groundbreaking investigation in all three: the liberal arts and the sciences, and economics and that the liberal arts, because they do not have this input/output fixation, this focus on efficiency they are in a privileged position because generally better situated than a Management 101 class to navigate complex systems, which have multiple and sometimes unknowable variables, not just one variable that we might call profit or empirical success, empirical success from the perspective of a rather naieve sort of modern, pre-Einsteinian, pre-quantum physics science.

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Wagner and the rhetoric of “truth”

Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 27), faculty members are invited to a “special” meeting concerning the appropriate response to President Wagner’s conduct–including, likely, a vote of no confidence. With that in mind, we’re reprinting SRC member Pat Blanchfield’s op-ed from the online edition of today’s Wheel:

On Truth, Courageous Inquiry and James Wagner
by Patrick Blanchfield

Nearly a century ago, the great American author and social critic Upton Sinclair wrote a withering portrait of the College President of his day. Sinclair’s College President is a manipulative, cynical figure, a smooth operator who effortlessly shuttles between the stuffy lecture halls of academe and the smoky backrooms of the business world, ultimately and solely serving the interests of the latter while modestly taking “the salary of a plutocrat” for his efforts. When faced with faculty opposition, Sinclair’s College President always gets his way, whether by cultivating alliances through flattery and handouts or by mobilizing a “kitchen cabinet” of administrators to discredit opponents, play campus interest groups against each other, and fabricate reasons to eliminate troublesome individuals and programs outright (“Perhaps they find that they have too many men in that department; or they decide to combine the departments of literature and obstetrics.”).

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Comp Lit: Wagner’s “philosophical failing”

The tenured core faculty of Comparative Literature have released the following statement on their home page:

We regret and deplore President Wagner’s recent use of the example of the infamous “3/5ths compromise” as a paradigm of good political practice in general, as a basis for thinking about university politics in particular, and more especially as a model for negotiating the future of the liberal arts at Emory.   In their serious historical, political, ethical and philosophical failings, these remarks demonstrate a contrario the importance of the kind of liberal arts education to which we as a department remain uncompromisingly committed.

Thank you for affirming the liberal arts’ value in the positive…

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From Literary Architectures: Emory “dumps” graduate departments. Another astute post on what the loss of humanistic methods implies for education at large (hint: nothing good).

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