Theodore Dreiser under the microscope (of a nutty professor or two)

 

For the American Literature Association (ALA) conference in San Francisco this coming May:

“Papers are invited on theoretical approaches to [Theodore] Dreiser’s canon and life. Some suggested approaches include Poststructuralism, Feminist Gender Theory, Material Culture, Psychoanalysis, and Philosophy (such as Foucault’s Technology of Self). Topics may include Dreiser’s philosophical writings, fiction, plays, essays, autobiographies, and journalism.”

Yes, but only if they are viewed through the prism of one of the opaque, recondite, and virtually incomprehensible lines of inquiry dear to academia specified in the second sentence above, almost all of them having nothing to do with Dreiser.

The living, breathing Dreiser and most of his works (unless they can be used to support an academically fashionable theory) are of scant interest to them.

 

— Roger W. Smith

    December 2017

 

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Addendum:

 

an email to me from Professor Emeritus Arun P. Mukherjee

 

August 18, 2019

 

I admire you for sustaining your research and a passion for reading and writing outside the university. This morning, before I read your attached letter, I looked at your Dreiser blog and your responses to Alfred Kazin’s “Introductions.” I loved reading them. I fully agree with you that Studies in American Naturalism is no replacement for Dreiser studies.

 

I find the way literature is taught in the university under the rubrics of romanticism, naturalism, modernism, postmodernism etc. so deadly. To give you an example from my personal experience, the writers I teach are labeled postcolonial by the academic categorizers. So. I would be often asked by my students as to tell them the “postcolonial aspects of the book.” So, they are not reading the book for the portrayal of the human life in the book, but for an “ism.” It defeats the whole purpose of reading literature.

 

The majority of academic papers are unreadable and I am thankful that I no longer have to bother reading them.

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