The Editor in Chief of Carpe Articulum has kindly allowed the first three pages of her interview with me and her interview with my husband in the latest issue of Carpe Articulum to be posted on the Red Room:
The pages of the magazine are jpg files so the interview can be found in the image gallery titled Carpe Articulum Autumn, 2010: http://www.redroom.com/gallery/carpe-articulum-autumn-2010.
Because it is difficult to read from the image, here is the text from those pages:
I realise this is hard to read and I thank you for squinting through it! Appreciate your comments. To ease things up a bit, here is the first part of the question/answer section again from a word document:
Broscova: “You have expressed some strong ideas—almost purist—on the subject of literary fragmentation in modernity. Can you explain your position on this issue?”
Solow: “Easily. I’m against it. It devalues literature. I have traditional ideas about literary studies: I believe in a deep, wide and general foundation upon which particular interests in the field can be based. I have nothing against the pursuit of obscure or esoteric topics in literary studies. My own particular research centres around Liminality.
But I have known far too many academics who absolutely astound me with their ignorance of anything outside a minute slice of literature or theory because they lack a solid background in literary history and are merely specialists in a single theory or a single poem without being able to put that knowledge in context. It is as if, in the rearing of children, someone would say, "Well, I pride myself on being a Parent, but of course, I only know how to wash children. I am a specialist. I don't know how to feed, clothe, or morally instruct them. Washing is my field."
It is gross irresponsibility to the discipline of literature, which I see as a living entity, in much the same manner as a growing child. A person of letters should be a person of Letters and not a person of Letter. My love is for literature, not bits of it, and I will fiercely protect it against fragmentation, which I do mildly and humourously in my new book, Felicity and Barbara Pym, but will do ferociously in my next book.
However, Hadassah, it’s not just I, vox clematis in deserto, waving a solitary flag on this rather strident bandwagon. I read The Chronicle of Higher Education every morning and in the last 18 months or so, have read hundreds of articles that decry the fragmentation of the humanities (particularly English), that outline the unhappiness of academic faculty and that bemoan the academic standards in some institutions, which have sunk to an all time low in certain English departments. These things are not unrelated.
I’ve also been reading ‘Theory’s Empire: An Anthology of Dissent’ (edited by Daphne Patai and Wilfrido Corral) to which fifty notable scholars contributed essays that, to quote the back cover, “question the inflated claims of facile slogans and political pretentions that have, in our time turned [literary] theory into a ubiquitous orthodoxy. It blasts literary studies – or rather the idiocy that passes for some literary criticism today. I’ve also just read Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities, which has been called “a devastating critique” and “a passionate plea to…bring academia to its senses.”
I have been driven to extremes at times in this quest. I have actually joined organizations with which I am politically at some variance (although not total opposition) because I believe in their mandate to restore the Liberal Arts to centrality and honour in the academy.
That is all I ask – that everyone responsible for the growing body, know the whole body.
I am a strong advocate of specialization in context. Special expertise in all fields is part of how we progress as a civilization, though unprecedented genius is probably equally responsible. It is marvelous that one scientist knows the habits of one species of moth – which may have tremendous effects on our environment – or that a physicist studies the behaviour of one kind of particle. This is how we evolve. But those people don’t study moths or particles without a firm grounding in their disciplines - which is what happens in so many English departments today.
I am not out on any kind of malicious crusade. I’m not essentially an aggressor, although I have my moments. I am a defender – and the reason I am in such defense of literature (against both inadequate students and inadequate faculty) is that I love it. And I don’t think that anyone who does not love it should espouse or wed it, which is exactly what you are doing when you enter a university and declare, “This is my field. This is the discipline to which I am going to devote my life this is what I am going to perpetuate, to promulgate to others.” You are saying in effect, “I have married this.”
And if you don’t love it, then you have absolutely no business being there. This is what I have against many (not all) literary theorists and critics. They don’t really care for literature as an art. Many of them are mechanical deconstructionists. They like dissecting things - a fine skill that should be applied where it can be most useful, which is certainly not in the reading, writing, constructive analysis, apprehension or discernment of the literary arts.”
Broscova: As a supplement to that, it’s also pervasive in literacy. It’s that lack of classical training that used to be standardized. Frankly, it makes me think that we should redefine “literacy.” Do you think we need to redefine it?
Solow: “I do, yes. I think a lot of damage has been done to young minds by a particularly nauseating overdose of this ubiquitous “Follow your dream (no matter how badly unprepared one is for it) philosophy”. There seems to be an air of entitlement in this country and in parts of the UK, which seems to encourage people to expect rewards for simply having a dream and not working toward it with blood sweat and tears. It is absolute nonsense as so much of ‘inspirational’ philosophy is. Somewhere along the line, reality has been discarded in favour of infantilism. Scream loud enough from the cradle or the American Idol stage and mama/nanny/Simon Cowell will come running.
And when in the latter case, this does not happen, people are bewildered and angry. Wanting something, they have been told, is the only requirement needed to have it.
They have never learned the simple fact that people who achieve excellence in their fields didn’t just have a dream.
They got up at 4:00 am to practice on parallel bars or had to forego other desirable activities and paths in order to get in six hours of violin practice a day, or stayed off the several million absurd writing advice blogs with their overheated little cliques that dispense useless regurgitated maxims, and empty praise and decide to actually confront their thoughts on a page—or they read Beowulf and Dante carefully and deeply when they didn’t see any point because all they were interested in was Sylvia Plath, because someone of more experience and wisdom told them to do so.
I don’t know whether we’re overly lazy, stupid, or childish these days. But the idea of preparing oneself for excellence has somehow disappeared. Even among faculty.
For example, I recently had an appalling student. I cannot tell you how bad this student was because you wouldn’t believe me. I’ve kept copies of this student’s papers (with the name blocked out) just because it is so hard to believe. I have no idea how this almost illiterate person ended up in a British University in any subject, but least of all English.
Of course s/he failed my class. S/he then signed up for another faculty member’s class and did as badly and this faculty member complained bitterly and often to me, privately about this student’s inability to string three words together without making a hash of it – but in the end he gave this student a passing grade.
When I asked him why, this was his rationale: “Well, we accepted him into the university, so we owe him something.”
I’m absolutely flabbergasted at this. It is akin to awarding a medical degree to a student who has killed all his patients by sheer dumbness, but as he somehow (by what means no one knows) was accepted into medical school, he ought to get a degree. How is this in anyway a responsible act on behalf of the university, the department and this faculty member and how does this make a modicum of sense to anyone with any integrity?”
The first three pages of the interview:
Causes Harrison Solow Supports
Lupus Foundation of America
Museum of Tolerance