The Dying Goose
Its habitat damaged beyond recovery by an oil spill of realities, the goose that once laid golden eggs is dying. In days of old, the goose strutted under the banner PROFESSION OF ENGLISH. It was prouder and more pampered than a Peabody Hotel duck. It frequently celebrated itself, without Walt Whitman’s democratic humility, for being the guardian of Western civilization with American style. Now, the poor goose can neither theorize its inevitable demise nor explain it. The goose is ready to be dispatched and roasted. But the Modern Language Association will delay and yet again delay the serving up of the goose. Indeed, the goose may never appear on the menu during our lifetimes.
It was not poetic justice that led a friend from the University of Memphis to tell me that Marc Bousquet’s “The Moral Panic in Literary Studies” ---http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Moral-Panic-in-Literary/145757 –was forty years too late. My friend had claimed for more than twenty-five years that instruction in writing of many kinds was what the world needed. A fine linguist and literary critic, my friend had an uncanny sense of a future. I heard a sigh of justification in his email.
Bousquet, an associate professor of English at Emory University, was worried greatly that many students who earn doctorates in traditional literary studies do not fare well in the job market. His worries are nicely amplified in the Modern Language Association’s most recent report on reforming doctoral education. The MLA’s recommendations avoid dealing with how the world is actually changing.
One of the more interesting commentaries on Bousquet’s commentary is Dave Mazella’s blog on eighteenth-century studies and moral panic –http://long18th.wordpress.com/2014/04/09/bousquet-and-moral-panic. Directing attention to moral panic is a temporary deflection of attention from the impasse of utter amorality and rampant greed that is dominant in 21st-century societies. Bousquet, Mazella, and MLA members should become familiar with the Moral Panic Research Network at Brunel University (London). All of us should read what Matthew Wood and Matthew Flinder have to say about “a politics of moral euphoria” in “From Folk Devils to Folk Heroes: Rethinking the Theory of Moral Panics” (December 2012/Number 2012/2) on the Brunel website. Wood and Flinder make a strong but not irrefutable argument that is a propos in considering that our world very likely enthralled by cosmic evil, a regrettable presence in our lives. And truth be told, it is probable the world has too little morally optimistic capital to ransom itself.
I think many of us who have earned doctoral degrees and who have not been fearful or ashamed of working in kindergarten, public schools, community colleges, and colleges which are not classified as Research I will continue to be pragmatic and to dirty our hands, as it were, with the necessary pedagogies of the oppressed. Some of us know that the world owes us nothing, that a long season of hard work is what we must require of ourselves and those we would teach to survive the threats of woman-made and man-made climate change. Yes. The goose will die. People will live and find practical ways of educating themselves without moral panic and humanistic lamentations.
Jerry W. Ward, Jr. June 11, 2014