I buy it totally.
Literary theory fits sub-literature better than it does the real thing.
So far as we are cncerned, it's like analyzing hte semiotics of bad music videos, because the really good ones are too complex -- not to mentin the great ballets, which aren't vernacular enough to be considered at all.
Great poetry is highly compressed. It IS true, the unbearably obscure poetry of the mid-century was ALSO compressed, but not like the great simple lyrics that had always held the attention:
"Western Wind, when will thou blow
the small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms
and I in my bed again."
is a lyric you can't forget -- it WILL not let you go. it's 500 years old, simple as dirt, but it's still got a hard-on.
Word is to the kitchen gone and word is to he hall, and word is gone up to the queen and that';s the worst of all
Arise arise Mary Hamilton, arise and say to me, what thou hast done with thy wee bairn I saw this morn weeping by thee.
I put him in a little boat and put him out to sea that he might sink or he might swim but he'd ne'er come back to me."
And then they hang her
It will make you weep.
Last night there were four Maries, tonight there'll be but three,
Mary [White,] and Mary [Brown,] and Mary Carmichael, and me.
Poetry is like Petipa -- it's highly selected, there's a lot that is NOT there, but hwat is can lay you in hte aisles.
Which doesn't mean there aren't great pieces written in diary form -- "The Things they Carried" holds you because of its intense imaginative concentration, though, and not because it's factually accurate -- the facts are plausible in hte extreme, but what makes them tell is how imaginatively intense hte prose is.
WHen I was teaching English myself, what i saw work was literature that they were arguing about when I entered the room. Primo among these was a novel by DH Lawrence caled "The Rainbow" -- half the class had signed up to read that book, they didn't even know what it was, but it was called the Rainbow, and htat made tehm sign up EVEN WHEN the class did not fit their schedules. I have never seen a groupd of people perform like these before or since. nearly half hte clawss got and A or a B+ -- they were off the charts. And it was hte books that made it happen -- great literature inflames hte imagination, and anything else is just a chore to study.
An article on the current state of the English department.
Despite sheltering this central educational service, English departments are regarded by those who manage the university treasury as more liability than asset. The presence of endowed “centers for the humanities,” the availability of grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the MacArthur Foundation or the National Endowment for the Humanities, and others, ease in only small ways the financial crunch universities now endure. As John H. D’Arms, formerly the head of the ACLS, reported more than a decade ago, even the meager outside support conveyed to humanists is slowly drying up and the responsibility for their well-being is “being increasingly shifted to the colleges and universities and . . . they cannot, or will not, make up the losses from other sources.”
These, then, are some of the external causes of the decline of English: the rise of public education; the relative youth and instability (despite its apparent mature solidity) of English as a discipline; the impact of money; and the pressures upon departments within the modern university to attract financial resources rather than simply use them up. On all these scores, English has suffered. But the deeper explanation resides not in something that has happened to it, but in what it has done to itself.
Thoughts? I would be interested to hear the opinions of any BTers who’ve had any (relatively) recent experience in the humanities department or are currently studying literature and related subjects - or who might have chosen to do so but elected not to. Older BTers with recollections of English departments of the past are also welcome to chime in.