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Does Bitchiness Serve Any Useful Scholarly Purpose?

SOURCE: PAUL BATEMAN

 PAUL BATEMAN

Scholars’ rude awakenings

“In the German context, a question is either an attempt to present one’s own view or an attack meant to question the authority of the speaker”

 writes:  It seems to me”, says Clive Bloom, emeritus professor of English and American studies at Middlesex University, “that academics are the rudest people on earth.”

Bloom’s first book, The Occult Experience and the New Criticism (1986), was greeted with a review claiming that it “mentions every orifice except the arsehole from whence [it] emerged”. Such “bitchiness”, he believes, comes from many reviewers thinking to themselves: “I wanted to write the book I’m reviewing” or “I’m the expert (but no one has noticed).”

And this, in Bloom’s cheerfully jaundiced view, is part of a wider sense of “resentment and defensiveness” resulting from the fact that most academics “don’t really produce anything that people want”. In extreme cases, this can lead to “hatred of the public and the world generally”. On one occasion, he recalls, his place of employment, at that time Middlesex Polytechnic, was visited by the mayor and mayoress of Haringey, “a small, olive-skinned Greek Cypriot couple, both in their chains of office. We gathered to meet them in the common room. As we stood in line with drinks and nibbles, one colleague turned to me and exclaimed rather too loudly: ‘Oh my God, they’ve invited the cast of EastEnders!’”

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