Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Dowling, William C. "Literary Studies versus Cultural Studies." CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION September 17, 1999.
The essential distinction is very simple. Literary studies takes the literary work as its object of inquiry. Whatever is not literary studies does not. Thus, a literary-studies teacher takes Hamlet to be a self-contained world of motive and action whose immense complexity is the subject of discussion with students. Many other things may be discussed in elucidating this world -- Renaissance cosmology, social history, theology, alchemy, etc. -- but they exist for the purpose of understanding Hamlet, not the other way around. Cultural studies, on the other hand . . . does not take Hamlet, or any other literary work, as its object of inquiry. [Cultural studies scholars like] Ms. Felski clearly thinks she's making a decisive point when she talks admiringly about "the multileveled meanings of black hairstyles" as a shining example of the sort of thing about which American critics of cultural studies need to be more aware. But she's missing the point. The point is that American universities are so structured that they already have departments -- anthropology, sociology, history, communications -- that study the sort of thing she's interested in. The problem with cultural studies is that, like a parasite flourishing at the expense of its host, it has left the study of literary works and literary tradition in a desperately enfeebled condition, with most younger English-department faculty members incompetent to do so much as help students learn how to read a lyric by Donne or Wyatt, let alone Hamlet or Paradise Lost. . . . Read the rest here: http://members.aol.com/rualliance/chronlet.htm.