Monday, March 23, 2009

No More Radical Reading in College?

There is an interesting article in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday from Ron Charles on the incredibly safe, conservative literature college students are now reading.

When I say "conservative," I'm not talking politically here. Ayn Rand is understood to be conservative, but she is also a radical read. She was my radical read in college. No, what I mean by conservative, is that the works being read do not challenge our world views, let alone expose new facets of existence. How can this be?

Charles asks two scholars, one on the Right, the other on the Left. The one on the Left predictably blames capitalism and the attitude that "if it's not popular, it's not worth reading." I will get to why students have that attitude, and it's not due to capitalism, but due to the efforts of his fellow Leftist colleagues. He also quotes conservative Roger Kimball, who I think comes closer to the mark, but also misses the real problem, which is that postmodern academics have been telling us for so long that all works have the same value, that we as a culture now believe it. If all works have the same value, then one might as well go with what's popular. If all works have the same value, then there is no "challenging" versus "conservative" literature. If we can deconstruct all works into nothing but power-relations that justify the current power structures, then there is in fact no such thing as "challenging" literature. Again, one might as well read fluff.

Only if there really is good and bad literature, only if there is a hierarchy of what is good and valuable, can we justifiably argue that our college students need to read better literature. And they do. Because there is better and worse literature, more or less challenging works. More, there are subversive works, which do in fact challenging the prevailing power structures.

My recommended reading list for college students who want to read the kinds of literature one should be reading in college:

The poetry and prose of Frederick Turner
MIlan Kundera
Alain de Botton
Carole Maso
anyone published by Measure
Tom Stoppard
Ayn Rand
J. T Fraser
Stuart Kauffman
Franz de Waal
Friederich von Hayek

And if you want to be really radical, go read all the classics nobody has you read anymore.

Please note that my reading list is a mixed bag of philosophers, poets, scientists, novelists, economists, and playwrights. As well it should be.


John said...

You forgot Shakespeare and Amy Tan.

Troy Camplin said...

I mention those I've read myself. And Shakespeare gets included in the classics.

John said...

You haven't read Joy Luck Club and you call yourself a Ph D?

FYI, Shakespeare owes his "classicism" to patriarchy and Francophobia.


Troy Camplin said...

Can't read everything all at once, you know. Been reading people like Kundera, Camus, Sartre, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Sappho, Victor Hugo, Stendhal, Carole Maso, Frederick Turner, Dostoevski, Goethe, Andre Breton, Henry Miller -- just to name a few right off the top of my head. Oh, and that Shakespeare fella. Spins quite a yarn, he does.

John said...

I like to think of Tan as the Shakespeare of Asian American Women. As does she.

Only Henry Miller I ever read was Sexus but it was pretty wild.

Troy Camplin said...

Make a list of all the Asian-American women writers, and I have little doubt she'll be at the top.

I only read Tropic of Cancer. Toward the beginning is one of my favorite quotes of all time:

""I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God."

He then declares that Tropic of Cancer isn't a book, but a song.