“With freshness and cogency, Robert Scholes’s English after the Fall argues that literature departments need to move from the ‘cul-de-sac’ of ‘literature’ and embrace a broader study of ‘textuality.’ Scholes presents a set of striking examples of how the profession can move from narrow study of ‘literariness’ to a more all-encompassing study of texts from all media—from a running commentary on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to lucid analyses of biblical texts in the context of debates over right-wing fundamentalism and gay marriage. Here Scholes illustrates how foolish and self-defeating it is to segregate the teaching of highbrow literature from the wider field of cultural representation.”—Gerald Graff, author, Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind
“Robert Scholes’s English after the Fall arrives just in the nick of time to join a nationwide debate on the relevance of teaching the humanities. In a perceptive, candid, and wide-ranging book, Scholes argues with passionate insight from a lifetime of experience. Equally comfortable with poems, fiction, scripture, public documents, film, musicals, and opera, Scholes provides us with a method of reading (and teaching reading) that is provocative, innovative, important, and very welcome indeed.”—Geoffrey Green, author, Voices in a Mask: Stories
“Not for the first time, Robert Scholes challenges us to dare imagine a different way of professing English, one where narrow specialties give way to a broad engagement with our media-saturated modernity. The argument is as urgent as it is learned, wending its sinuous way through a dazzling array of materials. English after the Fall is a necessary book that should be read by students, teachers, scholars, and anyone interested in understanding how we might all become better readers and better users of the many languages that make our world.”—Sean Latham, Pauline Walter Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Tulsa
Robert Scholes’s now classic Rise and Fall of English was a stinging indictment of the discipline of English literature in the United States. In English after the Fall, Scholes moves from identifying where the discipline has failed to providing concrete solutions that will help restore vitality and relevance to the discipline.
With the self-assurance of a master essayist, Scholes explores the reasons for the fallen status of English and suggests a way forward. Arguing that the fall of English as a field of study is due, at least in part, to the narrow view of “literature” that prevails in English departments, Scholes charts how the historical rise of English as a field of study during the early twentieth century led to the domination of modernist notions of verbal art, ultimately restricting English studies to a narrow canon of approved texts.
After tracing the various meanings attached to the word “literature” since the Renaissance, Scholes argues that the concept of it that currently shapes the work of English departments excludes both powerful sacred documents (from the Declaration of Independence to the Bible) and pleasurable, profane works that involve the performance of roles like those of clown and teacher in many media (including popular musicals, opera, and film)—and that both sorts of works should be studied in English courses. English after the Fall is a bold manifesto for the replacement of literature with what Scholes calls textuality—an expansive and ecumenical notion of what we read and write—as the primary object of English instruction. This concise and persuasive work is destined to become required reading for anyone who cares about the future of the humanities.