Literary studies in America are in a late stage of decay. For nearly a century English departments have been a revolving door of influences, most of which have not been salutary. In rapid succession historical and philological scholarship of the early twentieth century gave way to the New Criticism, the critical influences of Marx and Freud, postmodernism (deconstruction), New Historicism, and the currently dominant hermeneutics of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. University English departments today are divided along these various ideological lines, with the result that literary studies have morphed into a heterogeneous set of subdisciplines with the word “studies” appended. Here I intend no polemic against or diagnosis of the chaotic state of literature as a discipline; rather, I propose considering this state of affairs from the point of view of its practitioners. The professoriate is defined by those who profess. Borrowing Gerald Graff’s phrase, one might ask who stands out as a model of “professing literature” amidst this disciplinary chaos?
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