Having deconstructed one of his bugaboos in Against Deconstruction
(not reviewed), Ellis (German Literature./Univ. of Calif., Santa
Cruz) now goes after the race-gender-class triad of academic
political correctness. The Culture Wars have slowed only a little
in the media since the first salvos in the early '90s, fired in
such books as Dinesh d'Souza's Illiberal Education. Ellis, the
secretary of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, and
an occasional writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education on
political correctness, is slightly more interested in the
intellectual underpinnings of literary radicals than in fracases at
tenure meetings and conferences; but he is deeply concerned about
the deleterious effect of both on academic freedom and higher
learning. As something of an old-fashioned humanist, Ellis's style
tends to be measured and levelheaded when he's analyzing the
Western tradition and the recurrence of philosophic radicalism and
intellectual orthodoxy. His lively and telling discussion of
previous incarnations of political correctness include Tacitus'
efforts to romanticize German barbarians, Rousseau's vilification
of European civilization, Herder's volk-worshiping cultural
relativism, and Marx's materialist dialectics. He is also well
versed in the modern schools of literary criticism and provides an
excellent perspective on the evolution of the New Criticism to
Deconstruction and New Historicism. When taking on the opposing
forces in contemporary academic struggles, his methodical approach
is especially adept at showing up the the sloppiness of cultural
critic Fredric Jameson and the unscientific feminist psychology of
Peggy McIntosh. Sometimes the book gives way to petty polemic, as
when addressing more general trends in feminism and campus
activism, but Ellis's humanist dislike of cant and jargon is well
matched with his open-mindedness about the values of literature.
Another fusillade in the Culture Wars from an entrenched position,
but one of higher than usual caliber. (Kirkus Reviews)
In Literature Lost, John Ellis subjects the fashionable notions
that now dominate college curricula in the humanities to a careful
historical and logical analysis. The result is a devastating
critique and a comprehensive rebuttal of the claims made for the
reigning orthodoxy. "[Ellis is] not the first . . . to express
dismay at [the extraordinary changes that have come over the
teaching of the humanities in American universities]; what
distinguishes him is the clarity of his perceptions, and his
willingness not merely to deplore the new trends but-faithful to an
academic tradition he believes to be in serious danger-to subject
them to disinterested inquiry."-Frank Kermode, Atlantic Monthly "An
eloquent, passionate plea for the 'wider world' to engage itself
with academia and bring it to its senses, lest literature and the
arts be trampled beyond recognition by the armies of the alienated
professoriat."-Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World "A
thorough and masterfully rational study of the issues behind the
conflict."-John W. Aldridge, Wall Street Journal "[An]
exceptionally persuasive book . . . which ought to be required
reading for any student about to enroll in a literature
course."-Merle Rubin, Baltimore Sun
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