why academic criticism leaves me cold



When asked to describe my activities as a research/writer, I say that I am “independent scholar.” I am not and never have been an academic or professorial type, despite having taught literature and writing as an adjunct professor briefly. I have no academic credentials, other than a B.A. degree in the humanities, that would qualify me as an English professor.

My interest in literature comes from a lifetime love of books and reading, of literature and good writing.

I love the books I read for their own sake and am interested usually (very interested) in learning about the authors themselves — their lives and times. I take a great interest in learning about the writers I read qua writers: their style; how they compare to others writers; how they fit into the literary landscape and tradition; their development. Which is to say that, besides reading books for their own sake, I am constantly reading them from a scholarly/critical point of view. But, I never lose sight of the works themselves, which for me are paramount. To put it another way, the pleasure for me of reading is elemental. Yet, at the same time, there is great intellectual pleasure (the greatest I have derived, for the most part) in reading. And, I like to be challenged by deep writers who make one think and earn my admiration.

I am thoroughly uninterested in academic criticism such as that in the latest issue of the journal American Literary History (published by Oxford University Press), the contents of which are below. What this sort of criticism has to do with the actual works, with literature, is problematic — to put it bluntly, there is no connection. This is tendentious, polemical criticism. It shows what academia is up to when it comes to the study of literature, and it seems to be getting worse.

It’s depressing to contemplate.


— Roger W. Smith

  November 2018





American Literary History Table of Contents

Volume 30 Issue 4

Winter 2018




What Was Black Nostalgia?

Jonathan D S Schroeder


American Alternatives: Participatory Futures of Print from New York City’s Nineteenth-Century Spanish-Language Press

Kelley Kreitz


Crime Fiction and Black Criminality

Theodore Martin


The Book Reads You: William Melvin Kelley’s Typographic Imagination

Kinohi Nishikawa


The Novel and WikiLeaks: Transparency and the Social Life of Privacy

Scott Selisker


Liberalism and the Early American Novel

Stephen Shapiro


Attention Spans

Elizabeth Duquette


Debunking Dehumanization

Jeannine Marie DeLombard


Queer Sociality After the Antisocial Thesis

Benjamin Kahan


Archives of Ecocatastrophe; or, Vulnerable Reading Practices in the Anthropocene

Nicole M Merola


Four Theses on Economic Totality

Mitchum Huehls


Rethinking Pauline Hopkins: Plagiarism, Appropriation, and African American Cultural Production

Richard Yarborough; JoAnn Pavletich; Ira Dworkin; Lauren Dembowitz





See also my post:
“Theodore Dreiser under the microscope (of a nutty professor or two)”




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