- Restrictions on Access:
- Restricted (Penn State Only).
- Just Now: A History of Contemporary Literature in the University traces the formation and evolution of the academic study of contemporary literature from the late nineteenth century to the present. Whereas literary pedagogy and scholarship had previously been centered on Greek and Latin poetic and rhetorical texts, the institutionalization of the study of modern languages and the adaptation of the German research university to the United States beginning in the 1880s allowed for the question of the study of contemporary literature to be raised, debated, and acted upon. As higher education in the United States became more vocational throughout the twentieth century, the relevance of the literary curriculum came into focus as a crucial value and proponents of the teaching of contemporary literature appealed to its greater drawing power and use-value among students as compared to the literature of older periods. From the side of scholarship, the study of contemporary literature was only enabled with the validation of practical criticism as a form of academic work equivalent in value to philological and historical scholarship. With the rapid expansion of higher education after World War II, contemporary literature proved a popular and accessible subject for a growing body of first-generation college students, and this in turn emboldened younger scholars to establish institutional legitimation for the field through the creation of several scholarly journals. Although the field achieved a relatively nationwide stability and institutional recognition by the 1970s, it continues to be challenged by perennial declarations of contemporary literatures decline. In the course of chronicling the history of the status of contemporary literature in the university, this dissertation demonstrates that a number of core problematics that differentiate the field of contemporary literature from other academic literary fields have recurred throughout its history and remain latent but unreconciled. For instance, contemporary literature raises the question of critical distance, the necessary space between the scholar and her object; the historical methods which have been prevalent in literary studies since the 1980s take for granted that adequate contextualization requires that one be able to observe a literary work from a removed vantage point. The study of contemporary literature further raises questions of value that have been bracketed off in historical fields. Whereas earlier periods of literature have relatively stable canons of aesthetically or historically significant works, and value can be understood as legitimated by their history of being taught and studied, contemporary literature is a body of work that is being actively formed and selected by general readers, critics, and, perhaps most influentially, professors of literature. As such, scholars of contemporary literature must confront the thorny problems of ascribing value and determining what works most deserve to last. Finally, the study of contemporary literature raises important questions about the distinction between scholarship and criticism, what separates the professor from the newspaper critic or amateur reviewer. In examining the history of the subjects formation and evolution, I demonstrate that the growth and future success of contemporary literature studies depends on engaging such questions.
- Dissertation Note:
- Ph.D. Pennsylvania State University 2018.
- Technical Details:
- The full text of the dissertation is available as an Adobe Acrobat .pdf file ; Adobe Acrobat Reader required to view the file.
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