wither scholarship revisted

I haven’t had much time to write here of late. I have been very busy with my students on my digital age ning site. Right now I’m running a cyberpunk literature grad course there. And we’ve stumbled into a conversation of interest here I think. It began with reading Hayles essay on flickering signifiers, an early nineties venture into what would become How we became posthuman. There was some fairly strong negative reaction of the type you would be familiar with if you teach such things.

  • The language is unnecessarily convoluted
  • She’s "reading into" the texts too much
  • The same point is reiterated
  • It’s so difficult to read!

I don’t raise these responses to make light of my students! To the contrary, there response is something that we ought to consider with some seriousness. As such, we began a broader conversation about humanities scholarship in relation to their own work and writing (most of these students are public school teachers). And what do they say?

  1. That scholarship in their area of study (literary studies) doesn’t really have any impact on the real world (gosh, really?)
  2. That their own studies and academic writing has little or no relevance to their professional work as teachers (for the most part these are middle and high school English teachers, btw).
  3. That they get personal enjoyment from reading, discussing, and writing about literature.

There is certainly a sense that they believe literature might have value in the context of real world problems and that ideally there would be some connection between research and real world concerns, but they don’t see it. And realistically they don’t see it happening.

It’s hardly a new problem, right? But I would think it is a little depressing to a grad student in a program where you don’t see the content as realistically have value beyond personal enjoyment or the immediate context of the classroom. In this world, that is not enough. And it’s not that I don’t believe that literary studies has value. I believe it does. But our students struggle to see that value, even though, as English teachers, they are as close to being in our discipline as any profession could be. It’s the other side of the process from that faced by the humanities scholar who must recognize that her work drops into an ocean of media and scholarship with little hope of substantive readership or conversation resulting.  Our students stand on the shore of the information ocean without a sense of how or why to engage it.