13 September 2016

University begins again.

All the fine young gods and goddesses have returned to their universities, seeking not new knowledge, but to be confirmed in what they have already decreed to be true.

Once again I see the books and course lists in my old field, English, and it is rushing to see. All but gone is the canon, replaced with comic books and graphic novels and books of recent vintage. If they wish to teach contemporary literature, then they should change the name of the program, and stop pretendi...ng what they teach is the works of the English language. They are not being exposed to old books and old ideas. They aren't even being exposed to new ideas. They are only being exposed to current ideas, most of which are already in their heads without reading these books.

"Who decided which books are the great works?" asked my colleagues in years past, many of whom are now professors themselves. "Why should we abide by their decisions?" now they have decided on their own list of great books, and demand all abide by their decisions. They are unaware in their blindness that they were asking the wrong question, and they were already on the wrong track in merely asking the question. The answer to their question was obvious to anyone who was not us, anyone who had worked in the field prior to time: No one decided these were the great books. Scholars made no decision about the greatness of this work or that, they discerned the greatness of these works.

CS Lewis once wrote that only the learned read the old books any more, and they, of all people, are the least likely to gain any benefit from doing so. Scholars in his time inoculated themselves against any benefit from reading by engaging in their schools of thought. When they read a work the questions they never asked is: "Is this true? Should I change my life based on what I have just read?" Instead, they wondered how this fit in with what they already believed. Feminists wondered about how women were represented and how their oppression was represented in this work. Marxists examined how the class war played out here. Deconstructionists would state that this work once again attempted to say something, but ultimately said nothing.

And so we read and read the great works, and were none the wiser for any of it. The new professors who asked the wrong question and got the wrong answer now pick their works, not because they have discerned, but through an act of will. We will study this work, not because it has something in it worthy of study, but because I say so. They have no insight, no wisdom to pass on, and it is reflected in their choices. Nor are their students seeking it. They are not looking for nor offering windows into worlds not imagined, but only mirrors reflecting themselves endlessly.

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