professors owe respect to the past of their own fields. It is up to them to safeguard intellectual history, to keep the pressures of money and fashion at bay. The actions of a commercial press here demonstrate that if professors take their field's past for granted, or if they regard that past as an inferior practice, it will fade and disappear. They should realize that, for all the adversarial postures toward the market and bourgeois values, their "presentism" (or "post-1966ism") combines all too smoothly with the bottom line of the corporations who own their forebears.
Alongside Bauerlein's "What We Owe The New Critics" you might also want to read his essay "Theory's Empre", Andrew Delbanco's classic NYRB essay "The Decline and Fall of Literature", and Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer's acerbic survey from 1995 "Farewell to the MLA". I regret that I have not yet been able to read Delbanco's widely praised biography of Herman Melville.
And in a marvellous essay in the Guardian on Charles Dickens's Christmas stories, Kathryn Hughes writes about how Dickens often used Christmas "as a time to wake up the dozing conscience of the prosperous urban middle classes" and notes of his most famous Christmas story that:
What makes A Christmas Carol so important is that it marks the first time that anyone tried to imagine what a modern, urban Christmas might look like. Here you will find no lingering nostalgia for the Baron's Hall with its extended kith network and 12 days of feudal feasting. Instead, this is a pared-down Christmas, a single day's holiday enjoyed by small nuclear families with no historical or social links to anything beyond themselves. We never hear about Bob Cratchit's mother or sister, and even Scrooge's nephew's house party consists only of close family. When the memory of a joyful Christmas past is held out to Scrooge in the form of Fezziwig's Ball, which he attended as a young man, it is an after-work party held in a merchant's warehouse rather than a scene of feudal feasting. So Dickens demonstrates triumphantly that a meaningful Christmas is possible even in the most contemporary and urban of settings.
What I like best about Dickens is his immense verbal energy and riotous metaphorical imagination - think of Lady Tippins in Our Mutual Friend, with "an immense obtuse drab oblong face, like a face in a tablespoon" - and this facet of his work is taken up in another lovely essay from some years ago by Joseph Bottum, who himself sounds like a character out of Dickens.
And some other things I've been reading over the week gone by: Andrew Sullivan's long essay in the Atlantic Monthly on the Obama campaign, "Goodbye to All That", and Jeremy Waldron's close inspection of the idea of free speech, a big theme in our national conversation and especially on the blogosphere, in his essay "Boutique Faith", arguing among other things that "the costs of hate speech, such as they are, are not spread evenly across the community that is supposed to tolerate them".