In her new book, Elizabeth Kantor takes aim at the PC approach to Western literature that’s infected American English departments. As a graduate of an English department at a university (which, thankfully, seemed more balanced than the ones Kantor has in her sights), I can vouch for the weirdness in Lit departments. But in an interview, Kantor says this about Jane Austen, one of my favorite novelists:
Contrary to what you may have heard, Jane Austen’s novels are not “subversive.” They’re funny. Jane Austen made fun of men (and of women, too). But it was human folly and vice, not “patriarchal oppression,” that made her mad. If Jane Austen were living today, we’d call her a conservative Christian. She was quite comfortable with traditional sex roles. The villains in her novels are not jealous, controlling patriarchs. They’re weaklings. The men who cause the real trouble in Austen novels are distant, uninvolved fathers; uxorious husbands who do selfish things to please their awful wives; and lovers who pay too much attention to girls they aren’t ready to marry. Jane Austen clearly thought a lot of men would be improved if they were more patriarchal than they actually are.
Another thing she nails in the interview is postmodernist-speak. Here’s her invented sample:
“As a cultural-studies professor, I interrogate Romantic texts to investigate the foregrounding of the problem of subjectivity in the nineteenth-century imaginary.” Rough translation: Because I’m a Marxist, I spend my time trying to show that Wordsworth’s poems about the imagination and the extraordinary powers of the human mind are the results of impersonal historical forces.
My colleagues and I used to trade silly conference topics, since there appear to be no rules for common sense where the academy is concerned. Feel free to write about feces, or farting, or whatever else excites you about great literature. You think I’m kidding, and I wish I were, but there’s a growing absurdity in the university (or the polyversity, to borrow a phrase from Mark Rutland), and it’s devouring what is great about literature like a tapeworm.