Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2010


Purdue ResearchFoundation/Johns Hopkins University Press


What some see as the ongoing collapse of English as a discrete discipline has been hastened along by postcolonial studies, but many have argued that this deconstruction has been true from the start, that literary studies in general "has speculated continually about the intellectual foundations within which its key questions are framed and which make it possible, and how things might be otherwise" (Moran 46). Robert Miklitsch for example, suggests that "literature . . . was once implicitly interdisciplinary, encompassing, as Hazlitt indicates, science as well as philosophy" (Miklitsch et al. 258). Nonetheless, writes David Glover, "whatever criteria one uses to identify the literary, it is clear that in recent years its semiotic destinations have become ever more uncertain. Enter cultural studies, stage left" (Miklitsch et al. 284). On cue, David Lloyd argues that "cultural studies represents the fulfillment rather than the displacement of literary study, a critical return to its fundamentals rather than its demise" (Miklitsch et al. 281). If we view postcolonial studies as a subset of cultural studies,1 we should not, though, be surprised by a certain level of discomfort as this and other transformative movements massage the body academic, since they change the way members of the discipline understand their proper function as scholars and teachers. As Barthes writes, "interdisciplinary studies . . . do not merely confront already constituted disciplines . . . [and] it is not enough to take a 'subject' (a theme) and to arrange two or three sciences around it" (72), since, according to Joe Moran, their motivating impulses "are characterized not so much by their longing for the authoritativeness of inclusive knowledge as by their uncertainty about how knowledge is formulated and how disciplines fit together" (81). This discomfort, advocates of disciplinary interconnectedness would assert, is a very good thing, since "it is better to be self-questioning than to carry on doing what we have always done for reasons of institutional practicality or intellectual inertia" (113). In any event, let us posit that literary studies in general, and English language literary studies in particular, has never been completely comfortable with itself, and that onslaughts from continental theory, talk of interdisciplinarity, and probings from cultural studies and postcolonial studies (along with identity politics and other social movements) have made English departments look with some trepidation at Classics departments and worry that, like them, they may be teetering on the brink of irrelevance.


Copyright © 2010 for the Purdue Research Foundation by the Johns Hopkins University Press. This article first appeared in MFS Modern Fiction Studies 56:4 (2010), 769-787. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.



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