Via George, I came across Winston’s Diary, a blog by “a job seeking graduate student [of literature] who will remain anonymous until tenured, rejected, or so sick of academia that I leave it.” Winston, as George points out, discusses his concern about the “dreaded Theory question” at MLA interviews, implying that this question essentially amounts to a subtle way of determining a candidate’s political leanings. Winston then notes that his conservative tastes will prevent him from getting a job:
According to “the rules,” potential employers aren’t supposed to be able to ask you about your politics. But, given the highly politicized nature of theory, how can the theory question not constitute a question about politics? If I start talking about I. A. Richards’s influence on my work, I reveal myself as a literary conservative. And if I talk about A. C. Bradley’s influence on my reading of Shakespeare, I think that makes me a literary paleo-conservative. Whereas if I mention Foucault, or Said, or Derrida, I’m a fellow traveler.
Leaving asied the fact that hundreds of capable job candidates (with a variety of political leanings) will not get jobs this year because of tight market, Winston’s arguments seem to follow a familiar, recognizable pattern that tends to simplify what English professors do in a remarkably politicized way. Reducing Foucault, Derrida, and Said to political equivalents neglects some of the political differences between these thinkers (yes, I know that Said was inflenced by Foucault, but there are certainly differences).
Winston’s entry on the MLA program also engages in some of the same scare tactics. He carefully selects three panels (out of several hundred) in order to illustrate his claim that MLA has become too politicized. Winston’s major point is that none of these panels appear to be about literature or language, which is, of course, a major assumption given paper titles such as “Writing the Self: Reading United States Imperialism” and “Merely Reading: Cultural Criticism as Erasure of Labor” (my emphasis), which both appear to have at least something to do with language. Don’t they?