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Thread: Are undergrad and postgrad courses in literature primarily political education?

  1. #1
    dark desire dark desire's Avatar
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    Are undergrad and postgrad courses in literature primarily political education?

    I am in the third and penultimate semester of masters in English literature. I am an engineering graduate and have shifted to literature a year and a half back. In classrooms I have seen professors conveying political opinions more and they have talked less about the specific literary form and its development. Discussion on form and development of art takes a rather peripheral space. I appreciate the political background and its effects of the form and the narrative but shouldn't this be at the periphery and the art itself more at the center? Or is there something flawed in the way I am perceiving?

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    Being taken literally, is like being sent to hell LITERALLY.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Depends on department really, and on scholar, but for many they are densely interconnected. Rhetoric is in many ways a non-political approach, but it has been sidelined significantly. Philology is also a non-political approach, as are various traditional approaches to literature.

    The problem comes when one's approach is geared toward interpretation. How we interpret comes down to approach and what we are focusing on. For many texts there is a clear political context, and for many critics there is a clear political approach they favor. I cannot dismiss such approaches, but they generally are overkill in the recent market.

    Generally speaking any approach is good, but it does not need to be the only approach out there. In the 80s and 90s and early 2000s it was more so, now tradition seems to be coming back hard.

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    [QUOTE=dark desire;1245462 In classrooms I have seen professors conveying political opinions more and they have talked less about the specific literary form and its development. Discussion on form and development of art takes a rather peripheral space. I appreciate the political background and its effects of the form and the narrative but shouldn't this be at the periphery and the art itself more at the center

    Comments?[/QUOTE]

    It depends upon the unit, you are studying. Your own reading should inform you about the literary forms, and that's why the lecturer is not teaching that part. if you are unsure , ask your tutor and they may suggest some reading about it. Much of the discussion of literary forms is done at undergraduate level, so it may be that you've missed that part of the course. The political discussion is about the context of the text - why it came into being.

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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    I suppose the political context has a wider appeal and it's your discussion on the literary forms that will decide your mark, based on how sophisticated your understanding is.

  5. #5
    Tidings of Literature Whosis's Avatar
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    I think you'll sometimes get lucky based on the professor you take, but I know exactly what you mean. Because I was on a tight schedule double majoring, I had to take most of my courses with a professor who wanted to talk politics into literature or, if the course would allow him, assign literature leaning toward the political. I made sure my Shakespeare professor was a good one, though, when I was in undergrad. If you have to study Shakespeare for your doctorate (if that's the case), maybe you'll find someone who is passionate about Shakespeare as an author in his time as she was. But it is sad and even a little funny how English professors have to cast their politics into the course and even not consider those who hold an opposing view. I think a lot of professors would talk politics if they could and might at least bring it up before class. So I understand what you've had to go through. I would have rather studied literature as it was meant to be. I doubt the authors themselves would often be limited to such a narrow political view.

    On a side note, Steinbeck was sometimes criticized in a way I think professors (for example) would not be ready to criticize him nowadays as he completely dehumanized the people who were taking over the land in Oklahoma, not considering their perspective. And that may be true to an extent, even though I also believe Steinbeck made a wholly evil force against the migrant laborers work. As literature can be allied to history, it's sometimes impossible to avoid the major movements of politics, such as socialism, even though I don't notice authors pick it up that often. Their work often has to (and should) have a broader appeal.

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    At least you know what to think of them.

    Politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel--Samuel Johnson

  7. #7
    In an attempt to (grossly) summarize Arnold: Politics is a temporary and practical matter. There are plenty of good men who are absorbed in practical matters, which only heightens their appeal. But the role of a critic is to be disinterested, and to guide the people towards higher, more ideal displays.

    Highly recommend: http://fortnightlyreview.co.uk/the-f...-present-time/

    I disagree with the "interests" that your professors seem to have, which detract from the ideals of literature. Though it is both important and interesting to note the politics of a work and its times, it is (imo) counterproductive to focus on those politics, and works against the point of an advanced literary education. Accordingly, I agree with you - the focus is flawed and should be guided back towards, as you say, "form and development of art."

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