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Nov 2, 2023Liked by Monia Ali

I stumbled on your blog on Notes, and I am having a great time reading through older posts when I take a break from work during the day. Thanks for your writing.

Anyway, here's one perspective from someone who's working in an English department: academics really want to avoid seeming like elitists. In my discipline, this attitude stems from the long "canon wars" of, largely, the 80s and 90s. Scholars focusing on women's literature, African American literature, and literature from other marginalized groups began arguing that many "artistic" judgments (e.g., "women's literature from the 19th century is sentimental and psychologically shallow") were actually prejudicial and parochial. In many, many cases, I think they were right. Unfortunately, this substantive debate was eventually simplified into the assumption that any kind of artistic judgment, especially of popular art or literature, was potentially classist, racist, misogynistic, and so on. But, as the lit critic Michael Clune argues in his book A Defense of Judgment, this often means that the only method left for valuing art is by how it performs in the marketplace and in consumer culture. To avoid seeming biased or elitist, I think that some academics avoid criticizing things that are very popular. The results, as you suggest, can often be a studied credulity among academics, a refusal to transcend or criticize the dictates of consumer taste. Which is precisely what you'd hope academics would be capable of doing.

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