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The Rise and Fall of English

The Rise and Fall of English: Reconstructing English as a Discipline

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    The Rise and Fall of English
    Book Description:

    In this lucid book an eminent scholar, teacher, and author takes a critical look at the nature and direction of English studies in America. Robert Scholes offers a thoughtful and witty intervention in current debates about educational and cultural values and goals, showing how English came to occupy its present place in our educational system, diagnosing the educational illness he perceives in today's English departments, and recommending theoretical and practical changes in the field of English studies. Scholes's position defies neat labels-it is a deeply conservative expression of the wish to preserve the best in the English tradition of verbal and textual studies, yet it is a radical argument for reconstruction of the discipline of English.The book begins by examining the history of the rapid rise of English at two American universities-Yale and Brown-at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Scholes argues that the subsequent fall of English-discernible today in college English departments across the United States-is the result of both cultural shifts and changes within the field of English itself. He calls for a fundamental reorientation of the discipline-away from political or highly theoretical issues, away from a specific canon of texts, and toward a canon of methods, to be used in the process of learning how to situate, compose, and read a text. He offers an eloquent proposal for a discipline based on rhetoric and the teaching of reading and writing over a broad range of literatures, a discipline that includes literariness but is not limited to it.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12889-5
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Rise of English in Two American Colleges
    (pp. 1-28)

    About the past we can tell stories and write histories. Our own time, however, is a foreign country, whose customs are never clear to us. This is what Hegel had in mind when he observed that the owl of Minerva A waits until twilight to take flight. In the present case, I will begin my historical narrative with some sense that many others would assent to the main features of my tale. Later, I shall be winging it into the confusing glare of contemporary debates, trying very hard to lose neither myself nor my readers as I go. In this...

  6. assignment 1 My Life in Theory
    (pp. 29-36)

    Having been asked to be “timely” and to consider changes in my views over the past decade, I find that to be timely I need more time-going back to my beginnings in college. When I was admitted to Yale as an undergraduate (in 1946), prospective freshmen were asked to choose either of two English courses for their first year: English 10, a composition course, or English 15, an introduction to literature that featured Brooks and Warren’sUnderstanding Poetry, along with Shakespeare and fiction. I chose the writing course without hesitation, because I thought at the time that I was destined...

  7. CHAPTER TWO “No dog would go on living like this”
    (pp. 37-58)

    I would like to begin by putting before you statements on the topic of this chapter by two Victorian sages, whom I shall name in due course:

    (1) Five great intellectual professions, relating to the daily necessities of life, have hitherto existed—three exist necessarily, in every civilized nation:

    The Soldier’s profession is todefendit.

    The Pastor’s toteachit.

    The Physician’s tokeep it in health.

    The Lawyer’s toenforce justicein it.

    The Merchant’s is toprovidefor it.

    And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, todiefor it.

    “On due occasion,”...

  8. assignment 2 Theory in the Classroom
    (pp. 59-68)

    David Laurence has asked me to speak for twenty minutes about how, “for better or for worse, critical and theoretical sophistication affects the way faculty members observe students and respond to what students do as readers and writers” (letter of 2 Dec. 1992). The first thing I notice in David’s letter is that echo of the marriage service from the AnglicanBook of Common Prayer.And I imagine myself as having been wedded to Theory, some years ago, in a ceremony which went, “I, Robert, take thee, Theory, to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day...

  9. CHAPTER THREE What Is Becoming an English Teacher?
    (pp. 69-86)

    As you have seen, I begin with a question: “What is becoming an English teacher?” But this is not just one question. And it is not only a question. Without the question mark it might mean something like, A “You are now about to learn what sorts of behavior are proper or attractive for those who teach English.” Restore the question mark and the verbal formula is still open to a number of readings. For instance, it might be understood as raising a question about what sort of creatures are getting certified to teach English. Borrowing some language from William...

  10. assignment 3 “So Happy a Skill”
    (pp. 87-102)

    My topic today is academic writing: that is, the kind of writing done by college students in their classes and by college faculty in their fields of study. In discussing this topic I shall make several assumptions that I want to share with you at the beginning of my talk. First, I assume that academic writing is not only something that students must learn how to do in their own self-defense during their college years but that it also ought to be a useful mental discipline that college graduates can draw upon, directly or indirectly, for the rest of their...

  11. CHAPTER FOUR A Flock of Cultures: A Trivial Proposal
    (pp. 103-127)

    It is tempting to read the French printer’s creative typography as an allegory of contemporary education: pigs on the right, dogs on the left, and a flock of cultures timidly trying to find a place among them. Are all those creatures, perhaps, feeding on the rotting carcass of Western Civilization? Other interpretations may well occur to you. Feel free—this is not a classic text; it lacks authority and intentionality. My own reading of it, however, reminds me of what a contested field education is today, how polarized and politicized it has become, how difficult it is to speak reasonably...

  12. assignment 4 Pacesetter English
    (pp. 128-142)

    For the past several years I have been working with a group of dedicated teachers from secondary schools, colleges, and universities, along with representatives of the College Board and the Educational Testing Service, to develop an alternative English course for all high school students. My involvement began when I was asked to chair the task force that would set the guidelines for the English version of Pacesetter, the College Board’s new program to improve high school teaching in mathematics, Spanish, and English. Eventually, Bill McBride of Colorado State University and I cochaired the Pacesetter English task force. We spent two...

  13. CHAPTER FIVE A Fortunate Fall?
    (pp. 143-180)

    The concept of a fortunate fall, thefelix culpaof Medieval Christian thought, in which the original sin of Adam and Eve was seen as fortunate because it led to the Redeemer, was modernized by James Joyce early inFinnegans Wakeas afoenix culprit(23), a guilty figure rising like a phoenix from the ashes of its funeral pyre, perpetually, without redemption, like Finnegan at his wake, Finn again and again. In the later passage from same book quoted as the epigraph to this chapter, the phoenix has metamorphosed into a Westernized Sphinx, a version of Hegel’s Germanic culture,...

  14. Appendixes
    (pp. 181-190)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 191-196)
  16. Index
    (pp. 197-203)