Eye of the beholder
So, if we do not “love literature,” qua “literature”
and qua “love,” do we somehow neglect or betray the
particular written works that are, inevitably, our
object of study? (“In praise of literature,” by Albert Braz,
December 2012). Do professors in other disciplines
write screeds taking their colleagues to task for failing to
“love,” undifferentiated and in toto, the basic object of
their study, whether “quantity,” “relations,” “history” or
“antiquity,” in the way I am apparently meant to hug
an undifferentiated “literature” to me, trembling? What
hogwash. (Oh, and film studies or cultural studies as the
salvation of the English department? In 1987’s dreams.)
12 12 $4.50 / 4, 50 UA AU
The changing sabbatical – will you
stay or go?
Prendre une sabbatique aujourd’hui –
partir ou rester?
Élégie pour la littérature
Pourquoi les universitaires l’ont-ils abandonnée?
A lament for literature
Why have literary scholars given up on it?
Dr. Burgess is an associate professor in the department of English at the University of British Columbia.
You spoke for me
thank you, dr. braz, for saying what I believe is
“often thought, but ne’er so well express’d.” I quit
teaching because I could not bear to see my first-year students, who had come to love literature
almost as much as I do, go into Honours English
and be disappointed that out of 17 second-year
courses in our department, only two were not
literary theory. ( They were bibliography courses.)
Keep up the good fight.
Ms. Costopoulos-Almon lives in Edmonton.
Room for both
albert braz’s feature article on the state of
literature in English departments describes a
general trend creeping into course options
where, increasingly, scholars of English also
investigate the study of culture, theory and film.
Dr. Braz worries that “whenever one discusses
the future of the discipline, it soon becomes
apparent that most people feel that if it can be
saved at all it will be by embracing some related
field, such as film studies, cultural studies or that
academic catch-all that goes by the name of the-
ory – anything but literature.”
I disagree. Fifteen years ago, I studied at a very
progressive and yet also traditional English
department at McMaster University, and I adopted
a steady balance of theory and a love of reading
literature. Imre Szeman and Susie O’Brien (who
published a book on popular culture) taught there
during my studies in the 1990s, and their collec-
tive effort inspired students who love literature
to also parse their pop culture.
I am not certain that Dr. Braz can claim that
all professors share antagonistic tendencies
toward literature but his article does prompt the
question: Are English departments committed
to producing graduates who are better readers
of fiction and narrative and human culture when
they graduate, or more able to think in versatile
ways, or more open-minded and able to see patterns of thought in multiple contexts and
through various lenses and approaches via culture, theory or film?
For scholars, there is a constant balancing
act in designing curriculum to define the end to
which scholarship aims to bring English stu-
dents and their learning. Those departmental
conversations need to include narrative texts
that 21st-century students can read. The real
reflection as we think about approaches to nar-
rative in the humanities is: what lies at the heart
of it? Surely, all scholars have the opportunity
to meditate on what E.M. Forster, Henry James
and Joseph Conrad believed governs the art,
nature and purposes of literature and narrative.
There’s still time before we need to mourn lit-
erature as a lost cause.
Ms. Braid is a writer and researcher who lives in Toronto and teaches
creative writing at the University of Toronto and senior English at
In praise of Braz
this is a priceless work. It illustrates our (most
of my friends are writers) collective antipathy
towards the academy, even if many of us are embedded within it. We are the feedstock of literature.
We write the books that these bored literary scholars pooh-pooh without even bothering to read us.
We are the ones who, when we were young, the
Helen Vendler’s of the world said wrote trash. How
would they know? How many literary critics visit