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The Specter of Interdisciplinarity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


Marjorie Perloff's 2006 presidential address may be most striking in its call for a return to a conventional definition of the literary as the ground of disciplinary training. If the profession of literary study in the contemporary academy is in a state of crisis, Perloff argues, it is largely a result of the ways literary scholars have undermined and contaminated the core of the discipline, adopting a “governing paradigm” for scholarship and teaching from other fields, including anthropology and history (654). “It is time to trust the literary instinct that brought us to this field in the first place,” she counsels, “and to recognize that, instead of lusting after those other disciplines that seem so exotic primarily because we don't really practice them, what we need is more theoretical, historical, and critical training in our own discipline” (662). One could respond that this position, with its suggestion that the solution is mostly a matter of self-fashioning in the discipline, understates the broader pressures in the university as a social institution. But in what follows I would like to take up a different, smaller concern: Perloff's hostility to interdisciplinarity.

Theories and Methodologies
Copyright © 2008 by The Modern Language Association of America

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