Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Intro to Frankenstein
Hopefully I have finally picked a font color that shows up. I swear I'll figure this thing out one day. But onto the reading...
For starters I think Allan Bloom would have definitely been one of the critics to ask Mary Shelley how a girl could think up such a story. In fact he probably would have torn her to pieces. Being a child of two very controversial people, Mary Shelley would have fallen into his category of the "failing family". Surely Bloom would not have approved of Mary Wollstonecraft's premarital affairs and would have expected Mary Shelley to be another stupid student. If she was brought up in a family that didn't live strictly by the book then there must have been no hope for her. And he would probably have been deafened by stories of the sexual revolution of Mary Shelley's time. And look at her husband!
Mary Shelley shows her knowledge of Shakespeare and other classics in the Introduction, which would have met to Bloom's approval, but this was standard education of the times. I can just hear Bloom now: "That's the only reason she succeeded, because she had a focused education on the classics!" Well, the classics weren't as much classics then. She also shows a respect for religion that Bloom would have appreciated when she says how terrifying it would be for a person, in her story Dr. Frankenstein, "to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world." Although further investigation into her morals may not have pleased Bloom as much.
I would like to know what Bloom has to say about Mary Shelley. I think her fame is evidence against Bloom's theory that radical thinking (in the 80s form of rock music and sexual liberation) leads to an unhappy, unsuccessful, uneducated student.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

So I am officially not a fan of Allan Bloom. I didn't expect to really be that interested in it, much less hate it with such a passion. I'll give it to him that it takes a lot to really enrage a reader as much as it does, but what does it really accomplish? How did this rant of his affect society? Was Allan Bloom later made famous for creating this huge reform in the education system? I doubt it. He probably still sits in a recliner by the fire mumbling "stupid American students and their rock and roll...".
As irritating as it was, The Closing of the American Mind was much easier of a read than the selections from Altick. I'll admit I couldn't even finish the whole assisgnment in one sitting without falling asleep. Really the only part of Altick's work that caught my attention was his description of the ideal student starting on page eight. I am not much of a party animal (which around here is rare), so I have always been sort of a book worm. I was pretty pleased to find myself somewhat (but not quite entirely) of his picture of a happy scholar. I don't know how successful I'll end up being, but this was a little encouragement. At least I didn't want to hunt down Altick twenty years after his work to hit him in the back of the head with a stick.
Really I wouldn't want to be Bloom's idea of a perfect student. I could handle the work with the classics and everything, but not his obsession with the personal life of students as well. I can't live without my rock and roll and I'm certainly not the religious type to spend all my time reading the Bible and "modestly" covering myself from head to toe. Heaven forbid an adult woman be distracted by sexual urges or feel the need to develop a career before having children. If Bloom's text focused strictly on how to better the education system then maybe we could get along, but he takes his freedom of speech too much as a freedom to complain without action.
My thoughts on Bloom and Altick:

In reading Altick and Bloom, I noticed a similar thought pattern: they both seem to have lost faith in the modern students ability and desire to learn. Bloom makes some astute observations of how rock music is degenerating students these days because it lacks the concentration enhancing power of classical music. This is not to say, however, that I am against classical, as I listen to both classical and rock music. Altick has a grim view of what it is to be a scholar, for example, on page 16 he says the scholar "must cultivate a low opinion of the human capacity for truth and accuracy-- beginning with his own." To me this is saying that to be a scholar you can't trust anyone. Altick goes on to illustrate errors made by various editors on various works, and how the scholar must always take a second look at material he or she finds even remotely suspicious. Bloom, on the other hand, paints a dark portrait of the American student, attacking everything from the inefficiency of American education as opposed to European education, the books used by American students, the music listened to, and even relationships engaged in. He speaks on how a student's home life isn't what it used to be in terms of a spiritual education, as well as how MTV is the ruination of today's youth (which I can partially agree with.) I do notice that Bloom has a few Emersonian ideas in his work. The idea of a return to the soul as necessary to revitalize the desire for knowledge struck me as reminiscent of Emerson, as well as Bloom's mentioning of a return to nature, echoing Emerson's essay Nature. However, I think that Bloom has a narrow minded view of what is "wrong" with the modern student, as he never factors in any types of learning disabilities. I come from an old-fashioned Protestant work ethic household, so my ideas may seem a bit archaic. I do agree with Bloom's ideas on relationships and the sometimes vast amounts of drama they can cause as being a detriment to the student(s). I also agree that a return to the soul is necessary for a renewing of desire to pursue knowledge.

Bloomin Bloom

We discussed The Closing of the American Mind today, and I have little to add to our in-class discussion except a continued sense of outrage and alarm. How is it that Bloom gets away with making such outrageous (and, at times, overtly dishonest) claims about the state of American culture, Affirmative Action, feminism, rock-n-roll, race relations, etc. and never feels compelled to cite a study, reference statistics, or show an awareness of resaearch? He makes rabid generalizations and refuses to back up his claims with any evidence beyond personal opinion. And yet millions of people bought and believe his book. His rabble would never withstand the rigors of academia, the very institution he attacks. Has he never heard the adage that one must use the master's tools to dismantle the master's house? If he is going to demonstrate how hollow and soulless and uneducated current intellectuals are, then why doesn't he demonstrate some intellectual acumen, some balanced and ethical treatment of sources aside from his personal anger, some respect for his readers? I am more disheartened by the lack of rigor in his book than the claims he makes. His claims are unjustified, which he apparently recognizes since he, again, offers no evidence beyond personal opinion. But the model he presents of an academic is appalling. There's no respect for the profession or for scholars who scrupulously study the very issues he offhandedly blames on the opening of the university system to women and minorities (especially African Americans). It's really a very sexist and racist book, and shockingly careless with how it treats issues of race, the compexities of identity politics, and systems of privilege. Smugly reductive, mystifyingly self-righteous. And riddled with a language of fear--fear of change, of loss of control, of power and privilege. It's also painfully nostalgic, but for what I'm not entirely sure. For an era when all university students were versed in the Judeo-Christian tradition? For an era when truth was clearly discernible, when there were answrs? Did this time ever exist?

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This is a space devoted to the theoretical and intellectual discussions of ENGL 496, Fall 2005.
I have titled this bog in honor of a line in Mary Shelley’s apocalyptic novel, The Last Man. The narrator speaks of the “web of mind” connecting past and future, readings done and readings to be done, and writers across the ages. Her novel is marvelously depressed and convinced of a kind of intellectual stagnation. The same wars rage in the twenty-first century as were ongoing in the nineteenth: the same parliamentary debates regarding suffrage and labor party rights continue. In Shelley’s imagined future, women remain second class citizens and defined by their connections (as lovers, wards, workers, mothers, daughters, wives) to men. And English xenophobia and colonial mindset are entrenched. And yet there is this sense of hope because there is a web connecting all parts of humanity in a network of ideas, of connections between the spiritual, intellectual, and political, between the private person and public citizen, between the stories of represented history and those of an imagined future.

While we are together we will be asking ourselves questions about the purposes, goals, and objectives of literary study in a time and amidst a culture largely suspicious of intellectuals and their questions. The arguments on all sides (there are more than 2) of the culture wars have their roots in conversations that can be traced to Plato and before. What are the dangers of a democratized literacy? Should all people have equal access to all kinds of books? Are each of us equipped for what we might stumble upon? What if we aren’t? What happens when we teach certain texts to certain groups, but reserve other texts for other groups?

Example: Why is somed literature (gay/lesbian literature, for example, or Latin American lit, or Jewish American lit, or Islamic American lit) only accessible to students and/or readers who actively and doggedly seek it out (and many times have to special order it from an independent bookstore which means they have access to information about those bookstores and, in many cases, access to a computer. A person has to be privileged in order to gain access to knowledge, in other words)? Doesn't this problem of access and privilege contradict the humanistic vision of English studies—that it makes us better people by tapping into and expressing the human condition? What is the connection between socio-economic privledge, reading literacies and political voice? And how does it work? To what end do our seystems of priviledge keep us isolated and maintain the political staus quo? (By "political" I mean in the sense of Power, by which I mean having a voice and having one's voice matter.)

In any case, the questions I am working through will join the ideas and readings we read as a collective in agreat web of mind. Like a collective we will come together for discussion, but we may not always agree. Indeed, I hope we will not as it is very hard to grow or deepen one’s understanding when one doesn’t have to think through the ideas carefully and earnestly.

As an example of otehr communities having these conversatiions, check out The Valve: