The book Professing Literature: An Institutional History, Twentieth Anniversary Edition, Gerald Graff is published by University of Chicago Press. GERALD GRAFF. Professing Literature: An Institutional History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p. Perhaps nothing distances the New Critics. Read “Professing Literature An Institutional History, Twentieth Anniversary Edition” by Gerald Graff with Rakuten Kobo. Widely considered the standard history of.

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University of Chicago Press, Perhaps nothingdistances the New Criticsfrom currenttheory more decisively than their conviction that the literary work is an autotelic object. Today, it’s widely taken for granted that objects do not stand independently ofthe critical discourses in which they appear.

While this loss of the “object” has tended to marginalize once common modes ofcritical inquiry, literture has also entailed the compensatory opening up of new ones such as inquiry into the institutional conditions of critical discourse. Gerald Graff enters this emergent field with his new “institutional history. In the pre-history, the dominant institutional form was the nineteenth-century liberal arts college, where literature was studied as a means to other ends, ranging from the study oflanguage mainly Greek and Latin to rhetoric and oratory.

The main focus in these early English courses is suggested by the title of the chapter that Graff devotes profwssing them: This event proved to be epochal as the model of the research university that it imported into the United Literatur quickly gained the hegemonic position that it has enjoyed ever since. Within this institutional loterature, the disciplinary departmentalization of education that is still with us took form and departments of English appeared.


English and later American Literature thus became an independent subject, studied as an end in itself rather than a means to something else.

The second period began around the first world war and lasted until the early sixties. Graff gives this period more detailed attention than any ofhis others. Its epochal event was the triumph ofthe New Critics. Noting some surprisingly early anticipations of their work, Graff recounts how the New Criticism finally provided the methodological tools that successfully realized in practice what many had urged for decades.

The third period, which receives the least attention, began in the lrofessing sixties and continues to the present, where Graff sees dangers and opportunities rather than resolution and closure.

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His historical narrative is thus open-ended. In each ofthese three periods, Graffforegrounds a major polemical opposition: In the transformation from the first to the second opposition, the narrow concerns of the philologists became the broader but no less scholarly concerns of the literary historian, and the generalists’ exhortation that literary study should be edifying became the methodology of the New Criticism that achieved this aim, though not in the pgofessing and general cultural ways that the generalists had in mind.

In the next transformation, the scholars and critics in opposition during the second Book Reviews99 period merge in the present moment as traditionalists allied in opposition to the newly emergent theorists. These oppositions effectively organize an impressive mass of material.

Graffs history is informative and readable. The history fails, however, to shed much new light on the conditions of the various critical discourses that appear in it. Graffs primary purpose turns out to be less analytic than hortatory.

Professing Literature : Gerald Graff :

It’s this hortatory posture that links this new book with his last one, Literature Against Itself. The following is representative of the retrospective judgments that Graff peppers throughout his history: Had scholars and critics had to thrash out their differences in order to determine how they would organize the literature program, they would no doubt have left many issues unresolved.


Yet even this result might have been more instructive than the silent tradeoffs and negotiated settlements that actually ensued. Not that there was any absence ofvigorous debate, which enlivened the professional periodical literature throughout the forties with intense controversies.

Professing Literature

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