elite/elitism (fwd)

Nick Carbone (nickc@MARLBORO.EDU)
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 10:58:25 -0400

I received this from Mike and given the opening line I'm sure he meant it
to got the list as well. There's no cc: to rhetnet in the header and I
haven't seen a copy come from the list as well, so I'm assuming it hasn't
been to the list. Apologies to all if it has...

Nick Carbone, Writing Instructor
Marlboro College
Marlboro, VT 05344

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 11 Oct 1996 10:29:54 -0400
From: "Michael S. Allen" <allen.181@osu.edu>
To: Nick Carbone <nickc@marlboro.edu>
Subject: elite/elitism

I'd like to take issue with Nick and second what Bob says, as we circle
around "elite" as a thread of "what means pomo?"

I just can't agree with Nick's statement about "elite" being a "lovely word":

"I guess I don't want to surrender elite to the perjorative it is
so often put. It's a lovely word that suggests both pride and
learning and teaching, that I associate with scholar/teachers at their
best, who do not sacrifice one for the other."

I guess this hits close to home. I used to be, long ago (and didn't all of
us?), in "love" with the "scholar/teachers at their best," but after
living/working in English departments most of my life, I don't see much
evidence of scholar teachers who are even conscious of their own power
trips & turf-protection--much less willing to look at them critically in
the way that pomo theory asks anyone to become aware of the foundational
ground upon which their pronouncements stand.

I think it's interesting that English folks have no trouble talking abouyt
pomo theory--as long as it applies to anything outside of their own elite
world. But they/we are much less willing to shift the lens to our own
workings. For a small example, look at all the twisting and turning in some
of the messages on this list, to try to save the "canon." The "canon" is
an appropriate term: it's part of the "canonization" which makes teachers
into literary priests, high-culture cops--and that term covers both the
right-wing traditionalists and the left-wing p.c. corps. It separates
people from people; lord knows the priesthood separates itself from writing
teachers every second of every day in academe. I just don't see how
"elite" can have anything other than a pejorative term nowadays. It's a
signpost backwards to I.A. Richards.

On the other hand, Bob's spiraling upward percolations of pomo from the
underclass, from pop culture, from David Letterman--these are the
anti-elite dynamics of our culture, pomo in action, all around us. But
when do these percolations get into English courses other than writing or
rhetoric courses?--but then, that's just the point. Most English
courses--of whatever literature--often have only one real purpose: to train
an elite, to prepare a priesthood, to expand the literary club, to make
students replicate the teacher. And the kids get the message real soon, as
they learn to "give back what the prof. wants," whatever the ideology of
the course. The problem, at root, is in the whole concept of authority in
the teacher-based, lecture-based, "I know more than you" elitist classroom,
where the priest dispenses culture and the masses are "washed" in the right
way to think.

If English studuies were really serious about pomo theory, there would be a
rush of literature professors to writing instructors and a chorus of "how
do I stop lecturing?" So far, I don't see that rush. What I see, among the
literary elite, is a fear of student writing, fear of writing courses,
writing classrooms, and contamination by too much contact with the
"untouchables" of English studies.

Mike Allen