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In Defense of Naïve Reading

October 11, 2010

Robert Pippin in The New York Times:

Remember the culture wars (or the ’80s, for that matter)? “The Closing of the American Mind,” “Cultural Literacy,” “Prof Scam” “Tenured Radicals”? Whatever happened to all that? It occasionally resurfaces, of course. There was the Alan Sokal/Social Text affair in 1996, and there are occasional flaps about winners of bad writing awards and so forth, but the national attention on universities and their mission and place in our larger culture has certainly shifted.

Those culture wars, however much more heat than light they generated, were at least a philosophical debate about values, about what an educated person should know, even about what college was for. All of that has been displaced in the last decade by another sort of discourse: stories about the staggering and growing expense of a college education; the national hysteria about getting one’s children into an “elite” school (or at least one the neighbors might have heard of); the declining impact of a college degree on one’s job prospects; rampant plagiarism; the vast multitudes of part-time or adjunct faculty, usually without health care or much of a future, now teaching our undergraduates; pronouncements on the end of the book, the end of attention spans, even the end of reading itself. But the question of what all this expense and anxiety might ultimately be about, or what the point of it all is, has not surfaced much lately.

It might now be possible to get a different sort of perspective on that discussion of 20 years ago. It is not as if anybody won. The underlying issues ─ especially the philosophical issues ─ have not been resolved. [More]

 

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