cross-posted from The Valve:
Something positive about what is called the academic “new left” is that in some ways it is a multicultural continuation and advance from the best left/progressive work of the 20s and 30s, the time of strongest progressive advance in the past century. In other fundamental ways, it’s no advance at all. Especially with a prestige fixation on “theory” rather than an intellectual and normative commitment to socio-literary analysis of literature, English and other departments largely remove themselves from actual left/popular struggles and needed thought today. World Social Forum thinking certainly isn’t pervasive or “triumphantly” engaged within the academy. To the extent it does appear it is typically marginalized in myriad ways. In fact, neither the recent US Social Forum event in Atlanta nor much of its essential thought has even been broached here or in lit sites generally. Some “radical” “triumph”.
Michael Albert’s general overview and take on the event, “USSF – 2007 and After…”: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=1&ItemID=13271
Key works in the liberation lit tradition aren’t even included in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. (And it’s true I believe that there never even was a Norton Anthology of Literary Criticism? So we can see here quite clearly where the emphasis of the establishment is: on “theory” – which is far more tolerable, far less threatening to the interests of the status quo than more normative and directly engaged literary analysis.) V.F. Calverton isn’t exactly a marginal literary historical figure; his best work isn’t exactly a peripheral achievement. That is, shouldn’t be. Not in reality. Though he surely is in the reality of the academic lit establishment today (and previous days). What percentage of the lit establishment has even heard of The Liberation of American Literature, let alone read it? 1 percent? Let alone Bernard Smith and Forces in American Criticism. Who has even heard of V.F. Calverton himself, editor of the Modern Quarterly for 17 years, from 1923 until his death in 1940. Just as Calverton was eventually marginalized in his own time, for ideological reasons as well, so have many central progressive literary concerns been marginalized by the academy. The pillars and defenders and enforcers of the status quo who largely control the academies (the boards of trustees and their minions, and the corporate-state governments) would be smart to proclaim as loudly as possible, and often do, that there is an irresponsible Sixties Triumphalism of a would be, if not already, socialist faculty. The notion is comically false in its fully intended sense (despite any extraordinarily limited and/or trivial accuracy to such proclamations). As for English departments being different: Leftward Ho! V.F. Calverton and American Radicalism, by Philip Abbott, was published in 1993 as part of Greenwood Press’s series Contributions in Political Science. This seems to be how a limited amount of work of some “radical” substance gets done in the academies. It can be easier to get it published in someone else’s field other than your own. Less threatening that way, I suppose. It’s a way to both marginalize yet produce valuable work. It’s a way for the university to breath a little, sometimes very little, yet still keep the lid on.