---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 15 Mar 2002 09:27:30 -0600
From: James Girard <[log in to unmask]>
To: Charles Dickens Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: #4 When Did Literature Professors Stop Knowing Dickens? (fwd)
As a writer who has spent some time teaching in college, on and off, my
observation is that academic people are as susceptible as anyone else to
becoming caught up in the shared concerns of the profession and/or
institution in which they work, gradually letting go of the enthusiasms
that brought them there in the first place.
I've found it not uncommon, when talking with a lit professor, to see a
sudden flash of the high school kid who decided to major in English 30
years ago because he loved what he was reading. As someone once said about
major league baseball, the academy has the effect of destroying the dreams
of many who manage to wind up there -- as well as narrowing their focus,
simply because of the day-to-day adult necessities of getting along, doing
what is required to put food on the table for one's family. I used to know
an elderly professor whose specialty was Tennyson, and who knew everything
in the world there was to know about Tennyson -- but had pretty much
stopped reading anything by anyone else 30 years before, because there just
wasn't time. The same kind of thing happens with scientists. In fact, it's
famously true that scientists are often better read than lit professors --
because, for them, reading continues to be an avocation.
Undergraduates live in a sort of make-believe world of endless choices and
ample time in which to explore everything that attracts them. It's a great
time, and I encourage anyone who can to maintain that relationship to the
universe of learning for as long as possible. But those who spend their
lives in the academy actually live in a very different universe, and it's
unfair to judge the adult choices they must make, about how to spend their
time and energies, without considering that.
I think it's inescapable. The reason I stopped teaching (which I loved) was
that I saw too many friends change gradually from writers who taught to
make a living into teachers who wrote when they had a chance (and even then
made writing choices on the basis of vocational necessities).
At 09:39 PM 3/14/02 -0800, you wrote:
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 18:52:13 EST
>From: [log in to unmask]
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Subject: Re: #3 When Did Literature Professors Stop Knowing Dickens?
>Interest in literary theory and interest in poems, plays and novels are
>things not necessarily in conflict. But in practice too often they are.
>Professors take theory trips at the expense of teaching their students about
>the basic texts.
>Nor is there anything wrong with an interest in literary theory. What's
>wrong is too much interest in it. It somehow or other reflects the Zeitgeist
>and, since it does, should I suppose be taught. But much of it's not very
>good. Much of it shouldn't be taken seriously by anyone capable of
>considering ideas critically. Much of it, frankly, amounts to little more
>than a licence to talk self-indulgent nonsense.
>You got that, I grant you, when professors just marvelled about deathless
>bits of poetry and prose. But not as much, I'm inclined to think.
While it's true that we can profit from our mistakes, more mistakes doesn't
mean more profit.