True to its name, this journal’s stated ambition is to provide college instructors with new ways of organizing their material for classroom presentation. Comprised entirely of literary essays, I was often hard-pressed to find evidence of the CL’s pragmatic impetus, which was often sequestered in the endnotes, or tacked on as an afterthought in the concluding paragraph. Cross-pollinatory or not, the essays in College Literature are recommendable on their own merits; Zora Neale Hurston finds her home in a multiplicity of pedagogies, while Russian formalist Mikhail Bakhtin’s prejudice against the poem (too self-assured to be a truly dialogic, and thus vital, enterprise) is called into question. D.H. Lawrence, LeRoi Jones, Brigit Pegeen Kelly also make appearances.
The journal makes repeated forays into deconstructive or poststructuralist analysis; these are, by and large, well-focused affairs. Best, however, is the concluding critical essay, by Eluned Summers-Brenner, in which the dearth of a decidedly unscholastic topic – love – is offered as an antidote for the flagging interest in literature faced by today’s academics. Really, the decline should come as no surprise; literature is (if Bakhtin has anything to say about it) a composite of words for which both a past, and a future, must exist; literary culture, moreover, is conceptualized as an outgrowth of the nation-state. That the decline of academic literary culture came after the 1970’s – specifically, the “post heroic era” ushered in with the American withdraw from Vietnam – should be no surprise. In an era which has seen the collapse of our conceptualizations of both nation-state and university, we must return to a quasi-lyrical point of reference in order to regain the enthusiasm (unscholastic as the idea seems) necessary for literature’s survival at the critical level.
If you sense something suspiciously economic about this idea, something perhaps less brave than Derridean postmodern analysis (which, while perhaps presenting a world based on the same decentralized economic model that aided the downfall of the university, at least arose as a resistance to some of the devices instrumental in that change – most specifically cybernetics, with its misinformed chivalry and horrible restrictions on the scope of human behavior), you’d be, well, right. Still, if the love generation was the heyday of the academic (and I am not prepared to address the irony that this oh-so-political discipline enjoyed its finest hour during a time in which young men fled their nation’s call to arms and flooded the university), well, perhaps it’s due for a return? After all, postmodernism is an international language that, on principle, no one understands; love is an international language that everybody, including postmodernists, speaks on some level. Without addressing the author’s argument at all, I’m prepared, on my own terms, to accept whatever reason he gives for it.
Call me a hippie, but College Literature was, to my surprise, one of the grooviest things I’ve read recently.