Thanks for the link, Dr. Murphy!
Death by Suicide: The End of English Departments and Literacy
By Mary Grabar
"Who are you kidding?" I wanted to get up and ask the English professor who was giving a talk at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association convention in November. He was analyzing a graphic novel, the spaces between panels, the line widths of the panels, the lettering inside the "speech bubbles."
Maybe he was trying to keep his job in a field that by job postings indicates increasing irrelevance. Students are leaving English departments in droves. "This is a profession that is losing its will to live," proclaimed William Deresiewicz, former English professor himself, in 2008 in the pages of the Nation, no less.
It's been a death by slow suicide. The reference to "spaces" coming from the podium was the same kind of self-abusive parsing, I had seen applied by deconstructionists in the 1990s when I was a graduate student. The depressed patient, failing to see any worth in his work, had leveled the greatest works to "texts." Reading between the lines of "text" has evolved into reading the gaps between panels: "Lots of stuff happens in that silent space," said the professor.
The other English professors and graduate students in the audience nodded in complicit agreement, knowing that to acknowledge his intellectual nakedness would reveal their own. Or maybe they've really convinced themselves they're clothed in real scholarship.
I've pretty much given up on obtaining a tenure-track position; the remaining traditional professors I sought out in the early nineties have since either retired or died. Writing a thesis on Paradise Lost and a dissertation on Walker Percy did not prepare me for positions that advertise specialties in analyzing nine (yes, nine) genders or "visual rhetoric." But since SAMLA had come to me in Atlanta I thought I'd see what was going on. I learned that students can now study their lessons in race, class, and gender with the assistance of pictures.
Graphic novels, those ugly things which now enjoy a special section in college libraries, are to be added to almost any syllabus in a high school or college English class, I learned.
This is how far we've come since the 1990s when bitter young men and hysterical women scrutinized "texts" and condemned them as purveyors of imperialism.
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