Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Dead Parrots Society

A young English professor writes:

Dead Poets Society is old enough now for many professors to have been inspired by it as undergraduates. I remember seeing it during my junior year, and I thought, at that time, that the film encapsulated many of the romantic feelings that led me to become an English major the year before.

Ugh. I love poetry and I have a cringing reaction to "DPS." Vachel Lindsay? Come on.

But it's an interesting article. After a semester of teaching "the development of literary theory from humanism to structuralism to poststructuralism to the dilemmas of the present," he asks his students, "So, why do you want to study literature, knowing what you now know?" They give a range of answers, which would be the same ones I'd give, and which, he writes, "defied everything they had been taught in my theory seminar."

The problem is you can't get to where I am now without going through a decade or more of immersion in a highly politicized and anti-literary academic culture. You have to spend so many years conforming that, by the time freedom presents itself, you don't know why you became an English major in the first place. You might even have contempt for your seemingly naïve students, who represent the self that you had to repress in order to be a professional.

Ayup. And that's why I'm working on a copy desk and reading poetry for pleasure still instead of teaching it for a living. Going to graduate school for literature because you love poetry is like studying clinical gynecology because you love tantric orgasms.