Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Read and Remembered

In Not Entitled: A Memoir, the autobiography of Frank Kermode, I happened to notice the other day
The academy has long preferred ways of studying literature which actually permit or enjoin the study of something else in its place, and the success of the new French approaches has in many quarters come close to eliminating the study of literature altogether; indeed, there are many who regard the word as denoting a false category, a term used to dignify, in one's own interest, a one set of text by arbitrarily attributing to them a value arbitrarily denied to others. This position many find grateful, either because it saves trouble or because they have ideological objections to the notion that certain sorts of application can  detect value here and dispute it there; or because they are, as it were, tone-deaf, and are as happy with the new state of affairs as a professor deaf from birth might be if relieved of the nightmare necessity of "teaching" the Beethoven quartets.
(This is about 1970, and the new French approaches are structuralism and deconstruction.)

After the first smirk, it struck me that I had read something not dissimilar long ago. In Albert Jay Nock's Memoirs of a Superfluous Man there occurs
I have seen many a graduate student who had gone to Germany to study under some great classicist, like a colour-blind botanist going to a flower-show with a bad cold in his head; he came back as a doctor of philosophy, knowing a great deal about his subject, I dare say, but not knowing how to appreciate or enjoy it. So between the ineducable pupil on the one hand and the ineducable mechanical gerund-grinder, as Carlyle calls him, on the other, the system, speaking generally, did fail; it failed, as many a good system has failed, through getting into bad hands.

No comments:

Post a Comment