Literature Research

In my hand I have a hefty article on a canonical English poet, published 10 years ago in a distinguished journal. … The argument is dense, the analysis acute, on its face a worthy illustration of academic study deserving broad notice and integration into subsequent research in the field. That reception doesn’t seem to have happened. … After 5,000 studies of Melville since 1960, what can the 5,001st say that will have anything but a microscopic audience of interested readers? …

I devised a [small] study of literary research. … Of 13 research articles … in 2004, 11 of them received zero to two citations, one had five, one 12. Of 23 article … 16 received zero to two citations, four of them three to six, one eight, one 11, and one 16. … The unfortunate conclusion is that the overall impact of literary research doesn’t come close to justifying the money and effort that goes into it. …

The research identity is a powerful allure, flattering people that they have cutting-edge brilliance. Few of them readily trade the graduate seminar for the composition classroom. But we have reached the point at which the commitment to research at the current level actually damages the humanities, turning the human capital of the discipline toward ineffectual toil. More books and articles don’t expand the audience for literary studies. A spurt of publications in a department does not attract more sophomores to the major, nor does it make the dean add another tenure-track line, nor does it urge a curriculum committee to add another English course to the general requirements. All it does is “author-ize” the producers. Deep down, everybody knows this. (more)

This is pretty much the standard situation in academia – English is not much different. Academics talk as if academia is all about the research progress, but in fact it is more about “authorizing” the academics. That is, about credentialing their impressiveness, so that others can affiliate with credentialed impressive folks.

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