18 July 2006

Shoshana Felman + The End of English Literature

[The screw in window keeps on turning.]

This article (from al daily) outlines some of the reasons why I eventually fled the study of English in graduate school. My very first English class was introduction to theory (in which we read no literature): I loved it. But after four years of reading post-structuralism and post-colonial discourse theory I tended not to want to study English. To this day I have no idea how to analyze or parse a piece of literature that doesn't rely on vacuous statements (either 'I really liked that book' or 'Partaking in the general stream of pre/post-Western hegemonic dominance, this novel both subverts and amplifies the rhetoric of violence, the grammar of destitution and the general spiritual penury of the subject by means of tragic jouissance and the unspeakable other). Writing about his undergraduate students, many of whom are thinking of graduate studies in English, he writes,
It makes me sad to think how little those motives will be acknowledged if they go on to graduate school. They will probably go for the wrong reasons: to continue their experience as undergraduates. They are romantics who must suddenly become realpolitikers. Maybe that's why most drop out before they complete their doctorates. Those who stay have political commitments (and probably come from undergraduate programs where those commitments are encouraged early), or they develop them as graduate students, or they feign or exaggerate them to get through.

which doesn't exactly describe why I didn't want to study English--but it's close. The political nature of the academy is som
ething that I think I could handle. I think the clinching experience that precluded for me the graduate study of English was the writing of three papers on James' Turn of the Screw. I haven't really thought of this in quite some time. The breaking point didn't come from being genuinely in love with and confused by James' story: a typical conflict that might end with a broken heart. My love for English was done in by bad argumentation, poor logic and jargon. Two words, one funny-sounding name: Shoshana Felman. She killed my love of English and convinced me not to go to graduate school for English. Her book, Literature and Psychoanalysis, in which she writes a lengthy, sustained whackjob essay on Turn of the Screw is one of the most bald-faced inventions of bad faith-thinking across which I've ever come. I only regret that I was too young to be more upset at the time; and now I'm too old to remember the gory details. I will never revisit that book.

I'm serious. I was just looking for one particular howler I remember concerning whether a screw can be turned twice. Just flip through that book. (You can flip through it on amazon.) I dare you. It's scarier than anything the masterful James can suggest. A riddle wrapped in a secret wrapped in a Yale Press jacket wrapped in which is wrapped self-delusional twattle.