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

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In this lucid book an eminent scholar, teacher, and author takes a critical look at the nature and direction of English studies in America today. Robert Scholes offers a thoughtful and optimistic argument to preserve the best in the English tradition of verbal and textual studies while arguing for a radical reconstruction of the discipline of English-away from political issues and a specific canon of texts and toward a canon of methods.
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The Rise and Fall of English: Reconstructing English as a Discipline

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Overview

In this lucid book an eminent scholar, teacher, and author takes a critical look at the nature and direction of English studies in America today. Robert Scholes offers a thoughtful and optimistic argument to preserve the best in the English tradition of verbal and textual studies while arguing for a radical reconstruction of the discipline of English-away from political issues and a specific canon of texts and toward a canon of methods.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Part history of the college English department, part polemic for rethinking high schooland highereducation, this witty, engaging tract should earn Brown professor Scholes (Protocols of Reading) new friends and enemies inside and outside the academy. Unthinkable until well into the 19th century, the study of English literature quickly rose out of the study of Rhetoric and soon replaced the classics as the keystone of a liberal arts education. Scholes emphasizes the combination of "Romantic notions of genius and imagination" with a Victorian "high seriousness," that gave the study of English a sense of quasi-religious moral betterment. Until now, students read the little-c classics, from Beowulf to Baldwin, as morally improving stories. It is time, Scholes argues, to shift the emphasis of English education from canons to the more pragmatic discipline of reading and writing about books, pictures, movies, TV, etc.an argument he makes largely in reference to the canon (most visibly Hegel, Buber, Derrida), not Beverly Hills 90210. While Scholes's specific suggestions, which have been incorporated into an experimental high-school course known as Pacesetter English, will seem heretical to those with a vestigial, democratic faith in the contemplative life, these readers may find his critique of that faith difficult to ignore. If his proposals stray occasionally into goofiness (how many students now need to be coached to notice race and gender in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance?), educators will be indebted to Scholes for addressing the problems and doubts they face. (Mar.)
Michael Berube
An engaging, delightfully readable book by one of the leading commentators and theorists in the field. -- Michael Berube
Kirkus Reviews
A middling effort to claim the culture wars' middle ground over the teaching of English in high schools, colleges, and universities. Scholes (Humanities/Brown Univ.) has seen enough in almost 50 years in the field of English to worry that it has hit its high point (somewhere between genteel early-20th-century literary appreciation and technical New Criticism) and will suffer the same declining fate as Classics or utter extinction like Belles Lettres. Before making his modest proposal, he objectively reviews English's evolution in American education, primarily at Brown and Yale, over the last two centuries as it absorbed Rhetoric and replaced Classics as the foundation of a humanist education. The new subject, however, was somewhat uncomfortable with assuming the mantle of civilization from Greek and Latin, and its teachers found grammar and composition infra dig while they established their academic hierarchy. By the time deconstruction had undermined the previous generation's assumptions about truth and meaning, this status quo had become all but immovable. Although Scholes (Protocols of Reading, not reviewed, etc.) is well versed in literary theory, he sees no solution in turning the undergraduate syllabus into "a set of Great Theories, Great Theoreticians" any more than enforcing a curriculum of Great Books … la E.D. Hirsch. Instead, he hopes that English can return to a more pragmatic basis, inculcating "textual power," which he describes as "the ability to understand and produce a wide variety of texts," whether in academe or on the job. Unfortunately, despite his work with an educational task force whose goal was to retool high-school English teaching, his basic pedagogic program,which covers "texts" from epic poetry to film and television, begs too many questions about why English is studied in the first place. An honest but ultimately muddled attempt to come down from English Lit's ivory tower and put theory into practice.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300071511
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 5.87 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 2.51 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 The Rise of English in Two American Colleges 1
Assignment one: My Life in Theory 29
Ch. 2 "No dog would go on living like this" 37
Assignment two: Theory in the Classroom 59
Ch. 3 What Is Becoming an English Teacher? 69
Assignment three: "So Happy a Skill" 87
Ch. 4 A Flock of Cultures: A Trivial Proposal 103
Assignment four: Pacesetter English 128
Ch. 5 A Fortunate Fall? 143
Appendixes 181
Works Cited 191
Index 197
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