“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Monday, September 19, 2011

Charles Altieri, Help Is on the Way

HT Dirk Felleman. My colleague at UC Berkeley Charles Altieri senses the dead end into which literary analysis has driven itself in the last twenty or so years, the sense that everything has been done, and the yearning for something else. Something that isn't materialist criticism, exactly, something that isn't simply another reworking of constructivism. Historicism has become tired and formulaic. Deconstructioin has dried up into idealism.

Don't worry Charles, help is on the way. Graham Harman and I are writing essays for New Literary History even as I speak. Gimme an O, gimme another O ...

1 comment:

Bill Benzon said...

An Altieri story, from my days at Buffalo (retold from The Valve):

...And then there’s graduate school. I have no idea what the norm is, and SUNY Buffalo back in the mid-70s was not the norm. In many ways – intellectual adventure and interdisciplinary fluidity – it was a superb place to be. But . . . Graduate courses took the form of seminars; that, I believe, is the norm for graduate education in the humanities. In theory, seminars are supposed to involve dialogue between teacher and students and, of course, among students. In practice...

At Buffalo I spent something like 220 hours in seminar sessions. Of those exactly 2 hours were genuinely conversational and interactive. The rest of those hours were devoted to faculty lecturing, or perhaps just talking away, to us students.

And those two hours were an accident. It was in a modern poetry course taught by Charlie Altieri. One day he forgot to do any preparation and so had little choice but to throw the floor open. It worked splendidly. We students talked with one another spontaneously and with no effort. [No freakin' effort! A self-generating autotelic conversation.] Questions were asked and discussed, points made. And we actually arrived at agreement on something – just what, I forget. It was a long time ago.

At the end of the class Altieri expressed his pleasure – and perhaps surprise – and how well things went. He even indicated – I swear on a stack of MLA handbooks – that he’d try it again. He never did.