My department is mired in deliberations about how to replace two retiring literature faculty. With growing programs in professional writing and teacher education, the numbers indicate the need for faculty in these areas. However, there is concern from some about what this implies regarding the future of our department.
It’s a worthwhile concern, and anyone who has read this blog before knows I write about the future of English Studies all the time. Of course, since we need to get the job ads out immediately, it would have been a good conversation to have last semester or even a month ago. But here we go.
Some of the issues we must face are specific to my department (though perhaps not uncommon) while others relate to broader changes in both discipline and culture.
Here’s the deal in my department. The professional writing faculty work very hard trying to build their new program. We take our students on retreats every semesters; we have a student group that produces literary magazines and holds readings; we do campus wide events (something we call Professional Writing Day); we get involved in innovative projects around campus we think might benefit our students; and we do a hell of a lot of recruitment/marketing work. There are three of us in PWR. The teacher education folks work just as hard, if not moreso. They have to deal with the state and accrediting agencies, work with the School of Education, administer all the student teaching and classroom hours students need. They also have the lion’s share of the majors (though they obviously take a good number of literature courses as well). There are TWO faculty in this area. Meanwhile, to put it bluntly, our literature faculty sit on their hands. Here’s what I see. They can’t be bothered to do assessment or think about how to attract more students or develop interesting curriculum or build community among their majors or do just about anything. I’ve been here 3 years, but it seems like for at least the last 10 years the literature faculty (there are 12 of them) have done everything they can to make their own lives easier. When new requirments come down the pipe they cordon them off in new courses rather than having to alter their own teaching (thus creating the need to hire new faculty outside of literature). They let their own student organization, the English club, die. They do no recruitment; they can’t even bother to show up for majors fairs. Recently they even became unwilling to direct their own conference. So I took up the job.
So here is my thing. And I make no bones about being partisan or argumentative. Why should I asked to be “even-minded” or “fair,” when no one else in the game has to play by those rules? Bottom line: literary studies is so 20th century. Give it up and go home. No one loves you anymore. Stop calling me.
You want to know what the future is? I’ll tell you. The future is “not you.” Hey! not so fast rhet/comp, the future isn’t “you” either.
I am here to tell you the future is open
What is that?
Gee, I’m glad you asked. I’m sure you know about “open source” software. I’ve written some about open source composition (e.g. a wiki), where the notion of authorship is undermined by collaborative effort, where knowledge is developed through a communal process. Well I want to incorporate that notion, but I want to move toward a different emphasis by focusing on open composition.
What this reflects is the concept in poetics of the “open field” (as in Olson and L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry) as well as the Heideggerean concept of the open (cf. On the Way to Language). I’m also asking “you” to think back to the 60s/70s: the experimentations between art, poetry, and technology before comptuers became household commodities. Obviouisly the computational power is exponentially higher now, but we have perhaps lost some of that experimental quality, or at least it has become drowned in all the commerce.
What then is the “future” of English Studies? De-emphasizing, though not erasing, aesthetic appreciation. Reintegrating poetics and rhetorics with cultural analysis. Recognizing textual production of all types as cutlural, and specifically technological, phenomenon.
Moving forward with a discipline built on an ontological philosophy of aesthetic experience, cultural studies (of technology), critical theory, rhetoric, and poetics.