The World at Large

Here, on the other hand, is a comment on the MLA and hipness [in the comments on the post] that is quite another matter – and says (from inside the academy as opposed to outside it) what I’ve been thinking for a couple of days, as well as for many years:

At the moment (ask me again on Dec. 30 how I feel), the bottom line seems to me that many serious scholars of literature and culture, who would very much like to engage in a serious, generous, forthright way with the world-at-large, often find themselves prevented from doing so by both the internal demands of the scholarly universe (publishing in the “right places” demanding certain kinds of technical language and attention to trends) and by the jeers of that world-at-large (the technical language and trendiness taken as evidence of our irrelevance).

There. This is what I’m saying. Academics of all stripes, and especially, for heaven’s sake, literary academics, serious scholars of literature and culture, ought to want to engage with the world at large. Not necessarily every single one of them, I don’t mean that; some people would rather just concentrate on research, and are better at it; but some of them. It ought to be within the possible realm of thought for the discipline. That’s why I take exception to that ‘We’re professionals and this is our turf and it’s nothing to do with you so shut up and go away’ line. The quotation above is exactly the kind of answer I was hoping to see.

It’s common knowledge that engagement with the world at large, that popularization and public education are not the way to get ahead in universities. To put it mildly – they are in fact a ticket to oblivion. I’ve heard this from many relatives, friends and acquaintances. It’s only established stars who can afford to popularize or engage with the world at large. Carl Sagan was kept out of the National Academy of Sciences because he was a popularizer – because he did such a damn good job of turning people on to science. Well, brilliant – that’s a good way to run things. Wouldn’t it be nice if that system could begin to change. (People have been saying that for as long as I can remember, which is awhile. But one might as well go on saying it.)

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