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Closed Encounters: Literary Politics and Public Culture

Jeffrey Wallen
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Closed Encounters
    Book Description:

    In a provocative and fair-minded look at current critical practices and the future of the academy, Jeffrey Wallen draws a disturbing picture of public intellectuals in search of a public and cultural critics unable to enter a dialogue with others. Taking up several of the most influential critics of recent years-Edward Said, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Michael Bérubé, Gerald Graff, Richard Rorty, Stanley Fish, and many others-Wallen explores the intersections between literary and actual politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8934-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Introduction: Fellow Traveling in Academia
    (pp. 1-18)

    The goals of literary criticism have never been more ambitious. The word “intervention” is now commonly used in place of “essay,” and it suggests the hope of disrupting the current state of affairs, of stepping into and transforming the balances (or imbalances) of power through the agency of one’s words. The imagined arena of influence, like the circles from a stone dropped in a lake, is ever widening: professors interested in the particular object of study, the literature department, the “institution,” the public sphere, society. The current revival of the term “intellectual” testifies to the desire for an impact that...


    • 1 Political Correctness: The Revenge of the Liberals
      (pp. 21-45)

      Amid charges of “political correctness,” universities were in the news again. Perhaps more than at any time since the Vietnam War, what was occurring on college campuses became a topic for local and national news coverage. Conflict, as was the case a generation ago, was again the central focus. The conflicts this time, however, were not between the students and the federal government or, for the most part, between the students and the university administration. Nor was a matter of national public policy — such as whether or not the United States should be engaged in fighting a war on the...

    • 2 Is Academic Freedom in Trouble?
      (pp. 46-64)

      What is the future of academic freedom? The answer is by no means obvious. An earlier consensus about the principles of academic freedom has eroded, and tenure — traditionally the primary institutional safeguard of academic freedom — is becoming a rarity in the employment conditions of the 1990s. The American Association of University Professors, which was formed in 1915 in order to promote and defend academic freedom, no longer feels secure in its mission. The previous AAUP statements of principles on academic freedom do not provide a sufficient response to the recent controversies and attacks on higher education, nor to the troubling...


    • 3 Forging a Public Voice for Academic Critics
      (pp. 67-88)

      One of the most compelling issues for academic critics today is the relation of academia to the broader public. At a time when much of the academic criticism in the humanities engages public and social concerns such as race, class, and gender, rather than exclusively scholarly topics of inquiry, the question of what audience the critic reaches is crucial. For criticism that has social change as its horizon, the restriction to a purely professional, academic audience is self-defeating.

      The rise of socially oriented academic criticism has not, however, led to a greater public voice for academic critics. Books such as...

    • 4 Why I’d Rather Be Talking to a TV Camera
      (pp. 89-96)

      At one time it would have seemed odd, if not oxymoronic, that “public relations” would be a major concern for literary criticism. After all, literary critics have become experts at exposing the rhetorical strategies of public relations: strategies by which messages promoting the interests of particular commercial enterprises masquerade as concern for the general public welfare. For literary critics themselves to engage in public relations might therefore appear to be a betrayal of their critical enterprise. Even if the notion of public relations is taken more generally—not as the attempt by corporations to influence public opinion, and as an...

    • 5 Crossing Over: The Academic as Porn Star
      (pp. 97-112)

      For anyone who has been away from academia for the last ten or twenty years, the idea that pornography would be a serious and widespread topic for discussion, especially in literary studies, would be shocking. After all, great works of literature reside at the opposite end of the cultural scale from mere pornography, and the entire function of education is involved in moving beyond the most primal instincts. That there would now be a professional interest in pornography—and not simply an attempt to claim that exceptional “pornographic” works by writers such as Sade and Bataille are in fact literary...


    • 6 Criticism as Displacement
      (pp. 115-142)

      The literary critic typically proceeds by applying a framework of interpretation to a literary text. Such a statement, which emphasizes out structures of thought rather than the “primary” work to which we respond, is not terribly controversial in the aftermath of literary theory.¹ For the rise of literary theory has heightened our awareness of the interpretative frameworks that we employ and of the implications of our methodological choices. It is no longer respectable to presume that we could somehow dispense with the entire panoply of frameworks and schools of interpretation and either achieve an unmediated relation to “the text itself”...

    • 7 The Poverty of Conversation
      (pp. 143-180)

      One frequently encounters pleas for a meaningful dialogue, for a genuine exchange of ideas, or for a new conversation in cultural criticism today. What ideas about criticism, about the formation and development of ideas, and about academia are at play in these calls for dialogue? Does a demand for dialogue only arise at moments of addressing certain controversial social or political topics, such as race, and when the critic is expressing a position not likely to be held by the majority of the public? Or is dialogue intimately linked to criticism and particularly suited for the pedagogical and critical tasks...

  7. Afterword: Fellow Traveling with the Right
    (pp. 181-194)

    I have been analyzing some of the ways in which academic critics fail to realize their underlying social and institutional goals, but I do not want anyone to draw the conclusion that we should therefore renounce any ambitions for criticism that extend beyond a narrow, disciplinary sphere. Nor would I want to suggest that literary critics should write exclusively for each other or only address strictly “literary” concerns. Yet in drawing attention to contradictions between the aims and the practices of criticism, I have said little about the imagined other party in these transactions. Would it make any difference all...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 195-228)
  9. Index
    (pp. 229-232)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-233)