In the span of less than a generation, university humanities departments have experienced an almost unbelievable reversal of attitudes, now attacking and undermining what had previously been considered best and most worthy in the Western tradition. John M. Ellis here scrutinizes the new regime in humanistic studies. He offers a careful, intelligent analysis that exposes the weaknesses of notions that are fashionable in humanities today. In a clear voice, with forceful logic, he speaks out against the orthodoxy that has installed race, gender, and class perspectives at the center of college humanities curricula. Ellis begins by showing that political correctness is a recurring impulse of Western society and one that has a discouraging history. He reveals the contradictions and misconceptions that surround the new orthodoxy and demonstrates how it is most deficient just where it imagines itself to be superior.
Ellis contends that humanistic education today, far from being historically aware, relies on anachronistic thinking; far from being skeptical of Western values, represents a ruthless and unskeptical Western extremism; far from being valuable in bringing political perspectives to bear, presents politics that are crude and unreal; far from being sophisticated in matters of "theory," is largely ignorant of the range and history of critical theory; far from valuing diversity, is unable to respond to the great sweep of literature. In a concluding chapter, Ellis surveys the damage that has been done to higher education and examines the prospects for change.
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(216mm x 140mm x 15mm)
Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
Having deconstructed one of his bugaboos in Against Deconstruction (not reviewed), Ellis (German Literature./Univ. of Calif., Santa Cruz) now goes after the race-gender-class triad of academic political correctness. The Culture Wars have slowed only a little in the media since the first salvos in the early '90s, fired in such books as Dinesh d'Souza's Illiberal Education. Ellis, the secretary of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, and an occasional writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education on political correctness, is slightly more interested in the intellectual underpinnings of literary radicals than in fracases at tenure meetings and conferences; but he is deeply concerned about the deleterious effect of both on academic freedom and higher learning. As something of an old-fashioned humanist, Ellis's style tends to be measured and levelheaded when he's analyzing the Western tradition and the recurrence of philosophic radicalism and intellectual orthodoxy. His lively and telling discussion of previous incarnations of political correctness include Tacitus' efforts to romanticize German barbarians, Rousseau's vilification of European civilization, Herder's volk-worshiping cultural relativism, and Marx's materialist dialectics. He is also well versed in the modern schools of literary criticism and provides an excellent perspective on the evolution of the New Criticism to Deconstruction and New Historicism. When taking on the opposing forces in contemporary academic struggles, his methodical approach is especially adept at showing up the the sloppiness of cultural critic Fredric Jameson and the unscientific feminist psychology of Peggy McIntosh. Sometimes the book gives way to petty polemic, as when addressing more general trends in feminism and campus activism, but Ellis's humanist dislike of cant and jargon is well matched with his open-mindedness about the values of literature. Another fusillade in the Culture Wars from an entrenched position, but one of higher than usual caliber. (Kirkus Reviews)
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