Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Letters to the Editor

One of the practical ways that I use literature is to inflect my weekly perusal of The New Yorker. I receive a subscription of The New Yorker every year as a gift, and in this magazine I often find articles that I use in the classroom. Sometimes, I write letters to the editor. Since most of them have not been published, I have decided to 'publish' them here, in the virtual pages of my "What is literature?" blog. Following this post, then, I will occasionally post my letters to the editor of The New Yorker, each of which takes its cue from a literary theoretical point of interest. Literature both appears in the non-literary, and can be used to respond to and complicate the non-literary. Literature, in other words, is an ornament and a tool for disassembling ornamentation.

The reason that I am 'publishing' my own letters here is that as a humanities scholar and instructor, there is simply so much writing that one does that goes unread. One of the reasons that I experimented with a paperless writing class facilitated through blogs was to give more of my intellectual labor more of a public audience—my comments to individual students were always available to all students (not to mention public readers), thus expanding the number of potential readers of my critical writing. Then there is the peer review process, which takes a long time for turn around, and sometimes this does not even result in comments or feedback. It seems to me that blogs can be used to make our intellectual labor more public—particularly the work that will almost certainly go unread, otherwise. These letters to the editor took time, and were written according to certain genre conventions that are both nuanced and tacit. Furthermore, these letters reflect trajectories of thought that are not necessarily apparent in my more formal academic prose.