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This report is taken from PN Review 48, Volume 12 Number 4, March - April 1986.

Discrimination and American Literature Marjorie Perloff

In the United States, the number of university students majoring in English has evidently fallen by fifty-two per cent over the past decade. The excuse frequently offered for this sad state of affairs is that there are no jobs at the end of the line and thus students do not dare to major in English. But the undergraduate English major was never a passport to a job in this country, and I think there is a much better and more obvious reason. The 'new orthodoxy', as you rightly call it, has all but expunged literature from the literature curriculum and hence students, who may well know better than their zealous professors, are rapidly losing interest in the subject.

My objection is not to 'theory', since I believe that many of the 'great' writers of our own time, especially in the Western countries, happen to be not lyric poets or novelists, but such unclassifiable writers as Roland Barthes or Elias Canetti or Guy Davenport. I do not find this state of affairs particularly upsetting: after all, the eighteenth century was not a great age of, say, lyric poetry either. Moreover - and here PN Review has served a very important function in its reportage - in Eastern Europe as in Latin America and parts of Asia, contemporary poetry and fiction are evidently flourishing.

But one would never know this to be the case when one picks up the most famous of American classroom anthologies, used in ...


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