Does the Study of English Matter?: Fiction and Customary Knowledge


Over time, we in English departments have resigned ourselves to prophecies of doom. Our discipline is said to be in terminal decline, and civilization with it. Usually, it is our own fault: the value of our work, so the story has gone, is threatened from within, whether by submission to esoteric theories on the one hand, or by dissipation into the banalities of cultural studies on the other. Our only hope, they tell us, is the immediate restoration of the old pieties, as these were cemented in the nineteenth century: literature teaches moral values; poets redeem from decay the divine element in mortal beings; a knowledge of the best that has been thought and said makes us more humane.

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