The Passing Parade: Cheap Shots from a Drive By Mind

"...difficile est saturam non scribere. Nam quis iniquae tam patiens urbis, tam ferreus, ut teneat se..." " is hard not to write Satire. For who is so tolerant of the unjust City, so steeled, that he can restrain himself... Juvenal, The Satires (1.30-32)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

ROGER SHATTUCK: Roger Shattuck died last week at the age of 82. He was a leading authority of 20th century French literature. I never met the man personally or took any of his courses; I did not attend any college he taught at, but his works were a great help to me when I found myself foundering in the great sea of Proust’s A la recherché de temps perdu, and in other ways as well. Although he was liberal politically, Shattuck had no use for many of the academy’s intellectual fashions; he believed passionately that literature was not a game, that literature actually meant something, and to know where literature is going a reader has to know where the literature has been. He helped organize the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics in 1994, a group dedicated to the study of literature as literature and not some encoded political statement. As an educator and later as a member of his local school board, he bemoaned the lack of intellectual seriousness he found in the public school curriculum, pointing out that while the state of Vermont had a 600 page plan telling teachers how they were to teach in their classrooms, the state did not have any idea of what teachers ought to be teaching.

And he was tireless in his pursuit of those he thought corrupted the study of literature. There are few things as sharp as his essay on Michel Foucault in Candor and Perversion, an essay that shows Foucault up for the moral and intellectual mountebank he really was. When I read Foucault and Derrida and the other postmodernists for literature classes, and my professors foisted the post-moderns on us like a Pentecostal preacher foists the Bible on an unsuspecting heathen, Shattuck’s work was a godsend for me; finding that there was someone else, and an academic, no less, who thought this stuff was whatever the French word for bunkum gave me the confidence to simply disregard the post-moderns for the Laputans they really were. Shattuck’s criticism of what passes for literary thought nowadays reflects a belief in clear thinking expressed in clear writing, something no young academic could get away with in the climate of many literature departments today. The modern academy is a feudal guild of sorts, making sure all those who wish entry jump through the necessary hoops and conform to the required thinking; Shattuck never earned a master’s degree or a doctorate, and I suspect that lack helped him maintain the independence of mind needed to keep from falling for the latest intellectual fashions out of Paris. Roger Shattuck, RIP.


  • At 1:59 PM, Anonymous cranky-d said…

    I must admit I know next to nothing about po-mo stuff. Most of what I know I learned from reading Jeff G.'s site. However, it sounds like this guy had his head on straight. I hope he annoyed plenty of people in the establishment.

  • At 6:55 PM, Blogger miriam said…

    A nice appreciation.

  • At 6:56 PM, Blogger miriam said…

    A nice appreciation.

  • At 6:57 PM, Blogger miriam said…

    A nice appreciation.

  • At 11:15 AM, Blogger Tanisha said…

    May he RIP. Richard Pryor died too. I guess all of the greats are leaving us behind. Don't know this guy but thanks for the info!!


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