bousquet and moral panic

A few people have forwarded me Marc Bousquet’s latest essay (article behind paywall) about the “moral panic” in literary studies, along with SEK’s follow-up, and I’ve seen surprisingly little push-back from the presumed subjects of the essay, English literature professors. Bousquet’s point is that PhD-granting English departments like his own (Emory) are seeing a widening gap between the hiring of newly-minted PhDs in “traditional fields” vs. “new fields.” (i.e., students trained in historical, period-based fields vs. those in rhet/comp or digital humanities).  As a result, the wounded and defensive professors in traditional fields have engaged in what he calls a “backlash discourse” conjuring up “a ‘moral panic’ in defense of literary studies.”

I think there’s some truth in this description, but I also think that the analysis could be deepened.  From my own experience, in a public research university, and in a pluralist department with a full complement of advanced degrees in sub-fields (literary studies, creative writing, rhet/comp, linguistics, and with a growing interest in digital humanities), it’s taken for granted that we must work together, even if it does make all our lives more complicated. It does make inter-departmental conversation more difficult at times, but perhaps more rewarding, too. (I don’t deny that we all wonder from time to time what it would be like to work in a stand-alone department squarely focused on what we  do). But I think that for all but the most prestigious and super-endowed programs, disciplinary autonomy is off the table.

As I continued to read through Bousquet’s essay, it seemed to me that all but a handful of my friends and colleagues in the academy work in similarly mixed environments.  The remaining ones work in institutions either so prestigious that they could ignore the market forces he describes, or so oblivious (or, more likely, divided) that nothing short of catastrophe could make them change direction. Frankly, by the time Bousquet writes, “the moral panic doesn’t exist in the hundreds of programs that have kept up with the changing conditions of textual production,” I wondered why this essay wasn’t just an email to his colleagues at Emory? In other words, why should the rest of us care? At the same time, I do think that there’s a potentially useful discussion to be extracted from this essentially local argument.

I think in the long term and among a very broad group of working scholar/teachers, there’s a lot of justifiable anxiety about the future of what we might call “traditional” or historically-based literary studies.  This anxiety comes not (just) from the insecurities of superannuated or inactive faculty, but from the increasingly market-driven language used to justify the reorganization of academic departments wholesale in domains like hiring, tenure, enrollments, and so forth.  The once-dominant model of nation- and period-specialization has just weathered serious challenge from the MLA leadership this past winter, and left many eighteenth-century scholars wondering just what role we shall have in that organization as it goes through its own evolution (not that the MLA has demonstrated much love for rhet/comp, either).

So I wonder what sort of role literature and literary studies might have in the undergraduate and graduate curricula of “English studies” twenty years from now.  For example, in a pluralistic department organized without period categories, how would historical research be taught, or the general category of “literature” be usefully sub-divided or segmented?  How would “genre” be studied? And so forth. In my view, a large part of this “anxiety” reflects our awareness that many familiar landmarks in scholarly life are disappearing, with little concrete sense of what’s to replace them.

I have two thoughts about this stand-off between Bousquet and the resistant literature faculty he describes.

First of all, because of the depressingly straitened circumstances outlined by Bousquet many times before, a lot of literature faculty–even the ones trained in the Ivy Leagues–have made heroic or at least incremental efforts to adapt their curricula, teaching, and their research interests to their new surroundings and new students.

In other words, the period-based fields have not in any way stood still in the past few decades. This fact really became clear during the MLA dust-up, when eighteenth-century scholars were forced to argue to scholars from other historical periods against shrinking our division at the annual meeting. Not only were the proposals a self-defeating gesture for an organization purporting to represent the entirety of “literary studies,” they would jettison every trace of the field’s development over the past thirty years.  So I think anyone in Bousquet’s position would be much better off encouraging more, and better, adaptations among literature professors rather than threatening them with “irrelevance.”  I  don’t think high quality collaborations can occur under any other circumstances.

My second point is that it feels odd for Bousquet, of all people, to use the language of the market to justify the de facto institutional changes he wishes to make.  I have long admired How the University Works precisely because it questions the use of the marketplace or its organizational jargon to justify educational decisions that affect people. Anyone who has spent time in higher education knows that the market is not in any way a fair or rational arbiter, nor is it an impersonal historical force, but something that produces certain outcomes because of certain prior decisions and priorities. Assuming that this is the case, the changes taking place now are driven in part by all the forces he’s rightly critiqued elsewhere: permatemping, public disinvestment, corporatization, etc.  The economic-institutional process that elevated rhet/comp to its current position (however resisted by a few outliers) may also hollow out the academic departments that may someday be filled with majorities of rhet/comp teacher/scholars.

So the market has spoken, but why exactly should we follow its dictates here or elsewhere?  From my perspective, it might be better to envision (and enact) a version of “English studies” that is able to draw upon the expertise of all its fields, including the historical study of literature.



The moral panic doesn’t exist in the hundreds of programs that have kept up with the changing conditions of textual production. – See more at:
The moral panic doesn’t exist in the hundreds of programs that have kept up with the changing conditions of textual production. – See more at:

Happy Valentine’s Day from Bernard Mandeville



[B]y Love we understand a strong Inclination, in its Nature distinct from all other Affections of Friendship, Gratitude, and Consanguinity, that Persons of different Sexes, after liking, bear to one another: It is in this Signification that Love enters into the Compound of Jealousy, and is the Effect as well as happy Disguise of that Passion that prompts us to labour for the Preservation of our Species. This latter Appetite is innate both in Men and Women, who are not defective in their Formation, as much as Hunger or Thirst, tho’ they are seldom affected with it before the Years of Puberty. Could we undress Nature, and pry into her deepest Recesses, we should discover the Seeds of this Passion before it exerts itself, as plainly as we see the Teeth in an Embryo, before the Gums are form’d. There are few healthy People of either Sex, whom it has made no Impression upon before Twenty: Yet, as the Peace and Happiness of the Civil Society require that this should be kept a Secret, never to be talk’d of in Publick; so among well-bred People it is counted highly Criminal to mention before Company any thing in plain Words, that is relating to this Mystery of Succession: By which Means the very Name of the Appetite, tho’ the most necessary for the Continuance of Mankind, is become odious, and the proper Epithets commonly join’d to Lust are Filthy and Abominable.

Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 vols. With a Commentary Critical, Historical, and Explanatory by F.B. Kaye (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988). Vol. 1. Chapter: [45]REMARKS.

Accessed from on 2014-02-14


MLA 2014, pt III: The Revised Draft of the MLA Forums, Open Hearings, plus updates


Hi folks,

I won’t be attending MLA this year, but I wanted to provide a few 18c updates for those attending and those staying at home:

As always, at the Long 18th, we’re always happy to hear about any news or thoughts about the matters discussed in or out of the panels at MLA. Hit Reply if you want to pass along some bit of news.

Stay warm,


MLA 2014, pt II: sessions organized by the late-18c division, Jan. 9-11


And now for the later 18c.

Below you will find the sessions organized by the Late 18c Division for this year. As with the other post, please feel free to share your thoughts about these sessions, or about MLA more generally, below. Thanks, DM

113. Have We Ever Been Secular?

Thursday, 9 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott
Program arranged by the Division on Late-Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Presiding: Deidre Shauna Lynch, Univ. of Toronto

1. “Never: The Making of the Modern Aura,” Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, Univ. of California, Irvine

2.  “Pretending to Believe, Pretending Not to Believe,” Lori Branch, Univ. of Iowa

3. “Was Sentimentalism Secular?” Lisa M. O’Connell, Univ. of Queensland

4. “Quasi-nonsecularism; or, The Eighteenth-Century Sublime,” Richard A. Barney, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York

Session Description: This session revisits customary narratives about Enlightenment and secularization and explores 18th-century studies after the “theological turn.”

235. Life: Before and after 1800

Friday, 10 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., Addison, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Late-Eighteenth-Century English Literature and the Division on the English Romantic Period

Presiding:  Kevis Goodman, Univ. of California, Berkeley
Speakers:  Amanda Jo Goldstein, Cornell Univ.; Heather Keenleyside, Univ. of Chicago; Catherine Packham, Univ. of Sussex;Andrew Piper, McGill Univ.

Session Description:
“Until the end of the eighteenth century . . . life does not exist: only living beings.” Our two divisions will revisit Foucault’s still influential, periodizing thesis to question its validity in the light of recent work in the field and to think about what we do and do not share.

  608. War and Literature, 1754–1815
Saturday, 11 January, 3:30–4:45 p.m., O’Hare, Chicago Marriott

Program arranged by the Division on Late-Eighteenth-Century English Literature

Presiding:  William Beatty Warner, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara

Speakers:  Siraj Ahmed, Lehman Coll., City Univ. of New York; Betty Joseph, Rice Univ.; Scott Krawczyk, United States Military Acad.; Daniel O’Quinn, Univ. of Guelph

Session Description:
In the wake of the 250th anniversary of the Seven Years’ War, considered by many as the first worldwide war, we would like to open a discussion of war and literature. On both the continent of North America and the Indian subcontinent, war for empire among the European nations swept away first nations, redrew boundaries, and inflected communal identities.

MLA 2014, pt I: sessions organized by the restoration and early 18c english literature division


In light of earlier posts urging continued representation of all three sub-periods in our 18c MLA sessions, I would urge any ASECS members attending MLA this year to attend as many sessions as possible and show your support.

Below you will find the sessions organized by the Restoration and Early 18c English Literature Division.  Feel free to comment here if you have any thoughts about the session you saw, or about MLA more generally. Thanks, DM

MLA 2014_Page_1

MLA 2014_Page_2

“Currents of the Black Atlantic” conference

“Currents of the Black Atlantic”
13-14 March 2014, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Opening Keynote: David Scott, Columbia University

Closing Keynote: Sibylle Fischer, New York University

CFP deadline: Abstracts of 300 words or less electronically to by 31 December 2013.

Two decades since its publication, Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic (1993) united conversations about race, place, diaspora, and slavery within the Atlantic world. This interdisciplinary conference takes as its point of departure Gilroy’s ethos of looking outside of and challenging established categories (such as those determined by nationalist modes of thought). In the spirit of thinking both with and beyond the Black Atlantic paradigm this conference seeks to create a space for scholars to negotiate its theoretical limits while gesturing towards alternative frames and futures for the Black Atlantic. This interdisciplinary conference revisits the roots and routes, the genealogies and the futures, of The Black Atlantic.

This conference invites critical and methodological conversations among students and faculty who have been theorizing ways that rethink diaspora, transatlantic cultures, race, historiographies, and notions of “modernity.” This conference aims to bring together scholars across disciplines and bridge conversations that will shift the grounds, directions, and temporalities of the Black Atlantic.

Potential topics may include, but are not limited to:

Memory, Subjectivity, and the Black Diaspora
Remapping the Spatiotemporalities of the Black Atlantic
Early Modern Atlantic Crossings and Early Transatlantic Exchanges
Engenderings and Queerings of the Black Atlantic
Sounds and Music of the Middle Passage
Transatlantic Affective Economies
Black Atlantic Matter(s): Things and Objects of the Middle Passage
Ethics, Archives, and Historiographies of the Black Atlantic
The Black Pacific; Intersections of Race and Labor
Latin American and/or Caribbean Studies and the Black Atlantic

This is the annual conference of the English Student Association at the CUNY Graduate Center. Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words, along with a 3-5 line bio, contact information, and a/v requests to Additionally, feel free to submit abstracts as a fully formed panels and/or roundtables. We also welcome suggestions for non-traditional conference presentations. The deadline for abstracts and other proposals is December 31st, 2013. Participants will be notified by the end of January.

For more information, visit the conference website:

Last Year’s Letter from the Exec Committee for Late-18c English Literature (Anderson, Goodman, Lynch, Macpherson, Warner) about the Proposed Reorganization

Hi folks,

Since the program committee is meeting  soon, I would suggest, yet again, that if you feel a stake in the proposed reorganization, please visit the draft proposal site to register your response ASAP. The relevant paragraphs concerning 18c studies are paragraphs 82 and 83.

There is also an online petition getting circulated by Rivka Swenson, Danielle Spratt, Deidre Lynch, and Jonathan Kramnick, which would be helpful for you to sign. Please take a look, and if you agree, sign and share with your colleagues.

Here is the very thorough response that last year’s Late Eighteenth-Century Division made to the proposal to reorganize the 18c group and reduce its conference panels.  The writers of this letter are making it available to the Long 18th and its readers, so that the 18th century scholarly community can see the efforts they have made to work with the MLA in its ongoing development.  It is clear, however, that this letter was not taken into consideration when MLA moved forward with the proposal. Take a look:

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_1

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_2

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_3

Response to Marianne Hirsch & Margaret Ferguson - rev final 4-20 copy_Page_4


David Mazella