Saturday, May 2, 2015

A crime against the humanities

If your major is electrical engineering, then you have my permission to graduate without taking a Shakespeare course.

But if your major is English literature, then a Shakespeare class should be part of your undergraduate studies, without exception.

"Geoffrey Sanborn, English chair at Amherst, said …it’s important to remember that English is about more than its canon. 
“Rather than conceiving of literature as great works written by a handful of great authors,” he said, “we conceive of literature as a basic form of expression that’s taken a wild variety of forms, in a range of cultures and across time.” Plays, poems, novels, essays and more. “We’re trying to create lifelong, engaged, animated readers,” he said.
What I sense here is an academic trying too hard not to seem overly traditional--as if tradition implied fogyism. 

Yes, literature is a "basic form of expression that's taken a wild variety of forms." 

In order to objectively evaluate that "wild variety of forms", though, the student needs to understand the tradition from which those forms arose. The student needs a baseline, in other words.

And that means: the writings of Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, Milton, Dickens, Hemingway, and other great works in the canon of English literature. 

There will be plenty of time after that for the student to explore wild varieties of form.