I went to grad school in the late 80's. There was a gulf between the literary theorists and the creative writers. The MFA students had to take several theory classes, and most of them bitterly resented it. The theorists weren't real happy about the presence of the creative writers.
The rest of us--we just liked to read. We were in grad school because we wanted to continue living as long as we could in a world where we had time to read and people with whom to discuss great works of literature.
One day, a piece of graffiti made everyone buzz: "Literature is the manure out of which the flower of theory blooms."
People outside of the English department world would shake their heads at how much debate that bit of graffiti generated. I myself am still surprised.
Some year, I expect to look back at current discussions of pedagogy and online migrations and wonder how we missed the bigger picture blooming just offscreen.
I've had those English culture wars on my brain as I've been sorting through books at the office. I've had the luxury of a lot of bookshelf space, and in our new offices, I won't have that much space. It's time to weed!
For the most part, I'll be keeping the slender volumes of poems written recently. Out go many old textbooks--why did I keep them? And yesterday, I started sorting through the theory.
There's a table where we're putting the stuff that we want people to have if they're interested. I'm surprised at how quickly people take the books. Of course, everything quickly disappears.
Do people think the books will bring some money or are they genuinely interested? I hope they're taking them because they say, "What a treasure!"
Of course, they might be thinking they're getting a completely different book. Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish, for example--the person who grabbed that book may not have been expecting a post-structuralist classic.
If I had to define myself as a reader/scholar, I've always said that I'm a feminist first. But I'm also a post-structuralist in many ways--I don't believe there's only one way to read a text, and I'm just as interested in what readers think as what the author intended.
My bookshelves in the new office will consist of primary texts, almost all poetry. No pedagogy, no creative writing theory books, nothing that's easily accessible on the Internet. I want books of poems that will remind me of my higher calling. I want texts that I can read when I only have a few minutes. I want inspiration for my own writing.
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