Thursday, October 17, 2013

In Praise of SUNYB English

In the last installment of my “hunt for genius” series I talked about the English Department at SUNY Buffalo back in the mid-1970s and cited Bruce Jackson’s panegyric to same.

The interesting thing is that deconstruction and postmodernism where alive and well there, and yet the department respected the life of the mind and believed in the search for truth. Whatever individual faculty may have thought about this or that, the department as an institution believed in the search for truth.

Well, the general knock on postmodernism by outsiders is that it’s a free-for-all roll-your-own approach to knowledge, that there are no standards, that it’s relativism gone bad. The place didn’t feel like that at all.

Could it be that academics who yammer on about relativism and truth make the mistake of identifying Truth with current paradigms? That they mistake the existing institutionalization of intellectual life for the on-going Life of the Mind? I think so.

I don’t know what that department is like now, 35 years after I left. It certainly isn’t the place it was then; Jackson says as much in his article. Even then the end of those glory years was visible on the horizon. And no doubt postmodernist modes of thought have become sclerotic, but then, isn’t sclerosis rampant in the academy? Battles between competing ideologies are routine and boring.

But for a moment that department was able to break through the routine, to believe in the ongoing flow, in its necessity, and in its beautiful truth.

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