04 October 2008

The state of the profession.

I may be crazy, but it seems there are fewer English jobs out there this year than last year on the old JIL. Maybe people just don't need to read books and analyze texts anymore. An increasing number of job listings also are calling for "new media" specialists and despite the fact that most major universities force their graduate students into "American" or "British" tracks, many jobs are specifically asking for "transnational" or "transatlantic" or "cross cultural" approaches.

I'm not saying these are bad developments; after all, it's silly to think that American authors were influenced solely by American literary developments or American society. Despite the wailings of the right wing who would most likely decry the "leftist assault on our national identity" should universities stop insisting on nationalist study tracks, the authors themselves rarely gave half of a rat's ass about where their peers were from. Most of the American authors we still care about from the 1920's were hanging out in Europe with their European buddies.

Which is not to say that the study of national literatures doesn't have its place, but the reading public (whatever that may be when you finally get down to trying to analyze it) by and large does not distinguish between American and British in its consumption. Most of the individuals who compose that group are just trying to read things that interest them, that they think they're "supposed to read" to be cultured, or that are current best-sellers. Or that Oprah told them to read.

What is the reading public anyway?

3 comments:

m.a. said...

I think that you have asked a terrific question. I don't even know what the reading public is anymore. I don't know that I could ever tell you. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to be on the end of those who are trying to write whatever it is the reading public seems to want, rather than trying to figure out who they are and what motivates them to listen to Emperor Oprah.

Washington Cube said...

I keep reading that there is no reading public anymore. Given that I was a child who read early and couldn't be kept away from books (and still am that way,) it boggles my mind.

To keep culturally aware, I do read some of those books on the best seller list (Patterson et al,) but I never like them. It makes me want to go back and reread Michner and Mailer and O'Hara and other past literary gods.

I just flipped through what I had read this year (a list) and I would have to say Arthur Schlesinger's journals...that and Leo Lehrman's memoirs.

I just reread some Proust and I've been thinking about going back and rereading Hemmingway. Don't you love doing that? I've been reading Anna Karenina (Tolstoy) since I was fifteen, and every time I see it with new eyes and have lived through each character. I do this with a lot of books.

I was just thinking of selling off all my old Henry Miller books (since I haven't read him in ages,) then last night, with nothing from the library, I pulled Quiet Days in Clichy down and reread it. I've always loved his opening paragraph about gray in Paris.

cuff said...

Cube: I read about three or four new books a year and the rest seem to be rereads, primarily for teaching. I would like to read as much as I did pre-children, but I figure I have at least two more years before I have some more evening time to myself.

MA: I think Oprah has done a good thing for books in that she seems to be about the only place in popular culture that books are openly discussed (NPR doesn't count). I'm wondering if our time (right now...the 90's and 00's) will produce anything that lasts. I think Russell Banks definitely, but he started in the 80's. I think I'll probably do a post on this topic...hmmm.