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Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities First Edition Edition

27 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0300069204
ISBN-10: 0300069200
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From Kirkus Reviews

Having deconstructed one of his bugaboos in Against Deconstruction (not reviewed), Ellis (German Literature./Univ. of Calif., Santa Cruz) now goes after the race-gender-class triad of academic political correctness. The Culture Wars have slowed only a little in the media since the first salvos in the early '90s, fired in such books as Dinesh d'Souza's Illiberal Education. Ellis, the secretary of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics, and an occasional writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education on political correctness, is slightly more interested in the intellectual underpinnings of literary radicals than in fracases at tenure meetings and conferences; but he is deeply concerned about the deleterious effect of both on academic freedom and higher learning. As something of an old-fashioned humanist, Ellis's style tends to be measured and levelheaded when he's analyzing the Western tradition and the recurrence of philosophic radicalism and intellectual orthodoxy. His lively and telling discussion of previous incarnations of political correctness include Tacitus' efforts to romanticize German barbarians, Rousseau's vilification of European civilization, Herder's volk-worshiping cultural relativism, and Marx's materialist dialectics. He is also well versed in the modern schools of literary criticism and provides an excellent perspective on the evolution of the New Criticism to Deconstruction and New Historicism. When taking on the opposing forces in contemporary academic struggles, his methodical approach is especially adept at showing up the the sloppiness of cultural critic Fredric Jameson and the unscientific feminist psychology of Peggy McIntosh. Sometimes the book gives way to petty polemic, as when addressing more general trends in feminism and campus activism, but Ellis's humanist dislike of cant and jargon is well matched with his open-mindedness about the values of literature. Another fusillade in the Culture Wars from an entrenched position, but one of higher than usual caliber. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review eminently readable, insightful, and thought-provoking book that goes far beyond the often touristy and shallow journalistic critiques of academic political correctness by people such as Dinesh D'Souza, Richard Bernstein, Thomas Sowell, and Charles Sykes. -- Reason, Nick Gillespie


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 270 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (July 21, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300069200
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300069204
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,784,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

69 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Graham H. Seibert TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 28, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's an old-time jest when somebody is blindsided, knocked flat, dazed and confused. That was my reaction entering a graduate school of education after 40 years in business. Foucault who?

It is a whole raft of PC truck and amazing license with the facts and the methodology of research, an immense gulf between theories of how people are and one's real-life experience. Ellis provides the service of describing, cataloging, and providing a history and analysis of the race-gender-class theories driving political correctness. My goal is to extract Cliff notes of the major concepts to share here and for my own reference.

The most fundamental dichotomy is between humanity and society. People and the institutions they have built. PC sides with Rousseau in believing that people in a state of nature are fundamentally good but that society has corrupted them. If "man is born free, yet everywhere in chains," somebody is to blame. Political correctness, like Marxism which preceded it, is a blame game. It theorizes that a conspiracy based on race (white), gender (male), sexual persuasion (straight) and class (the capitalists) to exploit, demean, and abuse everybody else. Mankind will only be free when the millennium arrives and these "hegemonists" and the societies they have built are swept away to be replaced by new, shining, ideal institutions.

Rousseau's view inspired the French and Russian revolutions. Hobbes, Locke and the other philosophers who inspired ours took the opposite view. They hold that man is inherently selfish, and that we need the social contract and governments to hold our worser nature in check.

Society is not and never will be perfect.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By AJ on January 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
It recent years there seems to have developed a cottage industry of books denouncing the latest academic fashions and trends- from PC to Postmodernism, all of which seem to originate in the

" radicalisms" of the 60's. What makes Ellis's book different from the rest is that he manages to refute a whole host of absurd notions and theories with strong logical and lucid arguments; while not merely having to resort to petty polemics and Ad hominem attacks- the kinds of "arguments" his targets in this work frequently use.

Ellis examins the history of political correctness, whoose origns he finds in the 18th and 19th century German Romantic exultation of the " noble savage" along with their doctrines of cultural relativism and primitivism. The book then engages and refutes the PC scholars all of whom are classed as " race gender and class critics " who all in one form or another seek to impose a political Schematism on all works of art.

The book ,however, is not without it's problems. The fringe ideas of the likes of Peggy Macintosh, whom Ellis refutes are hardly mainstream, and his dismissal of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon( while perfectly sound) are hardly neccessary- as these thinkers are scarcely

dominant in the field of liteary studies. At times it would have been nice to see Ellis look at the more moderate and sound scholarship of the various critical schools under attack.

Nonetheless, this is very worthwhile book, and ought to be read by all of us who care not only for Literature but for what is happening in our culture and society in general.
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36 of 43 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
My first exposure to the inanities of current trends among the 'soft science' literati was through the work of the incomparable historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, who eloquently describes the effects of these hate-filled trends on the study of History in the academy. Ellis presents a logical, simple, and scholarly expose of the racial and sexual hatred that has infested our Literature schools, first in the academies, and now filtered down to all areas in public high schools and elementary schools. Little wonder that race relations in the US have taken a turn for the worse, although most Americans are at a loss to explain why this has happened. Look no further than the extremists in the academy and their devastating effect on public education at all levels. Ellis elegantly exposes the lack of logical thought among these academics, but I found Chapter 9 also very enlightening in the presentation of reasons for the development of this sad state of affairs. You will recognize in this chapter what you have known intuitively, but have not put into words, particularly the sad attempt to achieve accolades on the part of mediocre and uncreative minds. Envy and self-loathing are powerful motivators. (Among other things, it is a sad legacy of the premature death of Martin Luther King, who stood for principles solidly in opposition to these hate-mongers.) As a woman in a technical profession, the notion put forth by extremist feminists that women can not think 'vertically' (as in math, science, logic) is particularly repugnant, and can only do great harm to young women seeking a profession. Yes, men may typically excel in 3-dimensional space concepts, and yes, women excel in language and communication.Read more ›
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