From Publishers Weekly
Extending the argument of his tome Literature Against Philosophy: Plato to Derrida, Edmundson laments the state of liberal arts teachingand, despite his protestations to the contrary, effectively caricatures critical theory as the soulless antithesis to his own humanistic pedagogical ideals. While a stylish, erudite piece of rhetoric, Edmundsons book is dated, rooted as it is in the authors Harpers article of 1997 and in the culture wars of that decade. Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, claims he is not "antitheory," but a humanist who believes a liberal arts education ought to expand minds rather than shut them down. For him, critical theory comes "between" the reader and the power of great books, distracting students from the big questions concerning life and how best to live itquestions central to a democracy. As an alternative approach, Edmundson permits students to identify with characters in a naïve manner currently out of favor in the academy and highlights the authors voice (a technique he calls "ventriloquism"). Edmundson gives examples of how he teaches classics from Wordsworth to Orwell and takes positions on canonicity, multiculturalism and pop culture. Yet for all its learning and elegance, Edmundsons challenge to teachers might have done more to rejuvenate or deepen the tired debate in which it engages had its observations extended beyond his own classroom.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Reading literature nurtures our intelligence, our imagination, and our very soul. So believes Edmundson, a professor at the University of Viriginia, as so many great thinkers have believed over the centuries, writers Edmundson quotes with passion and expertise as he places literature at the very heart of a liberal-arts education, which he fears is becoming an endangered tradition. An eloquent advocate, Edmundson continues the invaluable refresher course on the significance of the humanities that he's been so ably conducting in Harper's
magazine and in his previous book, Teacher
(2002). Here he objects to the commercialization of higher education as students are recast as consumers and instruction is reduced to job training. Edmundson feels that students deserve, and need, more. He avers, "The purpose of a liberal arts education is to give people an enhanced opportunity to decide how they should live their lives" and that literature is "the
major cultural source of vital options." Edmundson's many-faceted argument is forthright, rigorous, and inspiring as he convincingly links literature with hope and humanism with democracy. Donna SeamanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved