A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ].
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

An Experiment in Democracy: Kenyon College

Money, Tenure, and Tuxedo Literature
Well, the sudden idea to write each of you actually put a grin on my face, though short lived. My question is simple: might there be one—yes, just one—English Department member at Kenyon College who might be able to perceive, even if but for a brief moment, beyond the paradigm of established-order literature? Might there be one of you—yes, just one of you—who might actually be willing to “listen”—not necessarily agree with, but just “listen”—to what is not within that paradigm?

As a professor (when employed, that is), I fully understand the expectations of tenure, which render taboo the questioning and challenging of ones colleagues, department, institution and, in the case of literature, the canon. University life from grad school on up is a kind of subtle and sometimes not so subtle indoctrinating process. If a student, question and challenge your professor’s fundamental aesthetic tastes and you will likely not obtain a letter of recommendation. It has become a bite your lip, shut your mouth culture. Few escape established-order indoctrination, though many will argue they’ve not been infected. The rewards are too great to escape.

In any case, nine months ago I sent the editors of The Kenyon Review a not very fawning email asking why the need for self-vaunting, which seems to have become all too commonplace in the milieu of poets and professors. “Always dazzled by its riches, when it arrives, I grab it and read it no matter what else there is to do,” states Susan Hahn on the review’s website.

What are Kenyon College English professors teaching students today? I asked the editors. Icon worship, icon ingurgitation, literary networking, self-aggrandizement, and self-congratulations? Shouldn’t professors be teaching students rigorous questioning and challenging of the academic/literary established-order instead? Shouldn’t they be teaching that vigorous debate is the cornerstone of democracy?

Nine months later, yesterday in fact, I received an email (not a response) from The Kenyon Review, which startled me: “The Board of Trustees of The Kenyon Review is pleased to honor Richard Ford as the 2008 recipient of the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement at a gala dinner on Thursday, November 6 at the Four Seasons restaurant in New York City. Tickets are $1,000 per person and include dinner and cocktails, with proceeds benefiting The Kenyon Review.”

Wow, has it really gotten that bad? A literary journal with a board of trustees and hosting a thousand-dollar per plate cocktail dinner at the Four Seasons! Writers in tuxedos! Poets in tuxedos! Professors in tuxedos!
If indeed you are teaching—exclusively teaching—the kind of tuxedo literature evidently promoted by Kenyon Review, perhaps one of you—yes, just one of you—might be daring enough to stretch your ears just a little beyond the walls of that comfortable tuxedo paradigm, listen, and even better yet encourage your students to do the same. You might wish to begin by introducing them to this open letter, which, since it is “open,” is posted at wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com. You could encourage them to even respond to it. You could even encourage your colleagues to respond to it.

Finally, you might also wish to get Kenyon College’s library to subscribe to The American Dissident, a journal of literature, democracy, and dissidence, which stands in direct opposition to the Kenyon Review in its open critical stance of the academic/literary thousand-dollar dinner established order. A one-year subscription costs only $16.

Your students deserve to be introduced to all points of view, not simply those approved by the Chamber of Commerce, pillars of the community, and bourgeois suburbanites.

Will one of you actually surprise with a response?

Sent to: boeckelere@kenyon.edu, carson@kenyon.edu, clarvoe@kenyon.edu, davidsoa@kenyon.edu, fernandok@kenyon.edu, garciai@kenyon.edu, hawkst@kenyon.edu, heidts@kenyon.edu, hyde@kenyon.edu, klein@kenyon.edu, klugef@kenyon.edu, laycock@kenyon.edu, lentzpe@kenyon.edu, lobanovrosto@kenyon.edu, lynnd@kenyon.edu, mankoff@kenyon.edu, masonte@kenyon.edu, matzj@kenyon.edu, mcadamsj@kenyon.edu, mcmullen@kenyon.edu, schoenfeldj@kenyon.edu, smithju@kenyon.edu, vigdermanp@kenyon.edu, kenyonreview@kenyon.edu


mather said...

Good blog, I really liked the title. Let me know if you get any responses, even though I know they will be simply pale deflections and dismissals, without really addressing your points.

G. Tod said...

The following is an email from the editor of Kenyon Review and my response. To date, the editor has not responded to the latter.

Dear Mr. Slone,
Thank you for your email to the English Dept at Kenyon College. I'm sorry, but I never received the earlier message you mention to The Kenyon Review. I do try very hard to attend to such communications.
I'm afraid I can't go into great detail in response to your deep distress, but I think you might well be interested in visiting the Kenyon College website and looking at the courses offered by our English department. You'll find a vibrant and varied set of courses and reading lists. Certainly we address many of the most influential writers in English across many generations, but I suspect you'll be surprised by the number of lesser known authors we teach as well.
Likewise, The Kenyon Review's mission from the very start 70 years ago has been to introduce new voices to the world, as well as the most honored authors of a given moment. Writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Pynchon, and Joyce Carol Oates were largely unknown before appearing in KR.
Finally, yes, we do have a big dinner coming up in November in New York. And it's $1000/plate. Raising money is a necessary part of literary publishing today. You make this point yourself in suggesting we subscribe to your journal. We're struggling to survive in a changing world, and certainly the current economic climate only increases the challenges before us. Richard Ford, like our earlier honorees, is well deserving, and I look forward to honoring him in New York and then to accompanying him back to Ohio where he will spend two days meeting students and community members. This is all part of the literary life of Kenyon College.
Best wishes,
David Lynn
p.s. Suggested dress for the dinner is business attire. No tuxedos.
David H. Lynn
Editor, The Kenyon Review
Professor of English

Hi David,
Thanks much for your response. As you might suppose, I was quite surprised to receive it. After all, you are the editor of one of the highest highbrow lit journals in the nation. Sadly, however, you ignored the points made. It is perhaps possible you might not be able to understand them. I’m not sure. My assumption is that you’ve been living in an academic cocoon most of your life. Am I wrong?
My “deep distress,” as you disparagingly put it, really concerns not your $1,000 per head business-attire poet banquet but rather my being censored by the Academy of American Poets, my being outright rejected for grants by the NEA and Mass Cultural Council for political reasons, and the general indifference of the academic/literary established-order to that censorship and political rejection. My “deep distress” is for our dwindling democracy, as clearly reflected in the nation’s universities, which tend to be more interested in enacting speech codes than First-Amendment courses and centers.
So, I took a look at Kenyon College’s website, as you suggested. “Its faculty includes renowned teachers, award-winning poets and fiction writers, and a recent winner of the MacArthur Foundation's genius award," it vaunts. Sadly, you likely do not teach students to question and challenge what “renowned” and “most honored” often imply and who is doing the “renowning” and “honoring.” Yes, who are the faceless judges who have groveled to the top where the “renowning” and “honoring” are done? Sadly, you likely do not teach students that perhaps handing out $500,000 (MacArthur) to one poet each year is a shameful way to distribute precious funds. Sadly, you also likely do not teach students to question monied foundations and how their big bucks tend to shape literature usually in a way not adverse to the business-suited status quo, which, as you know, has been destroying the country. Sadly, you likely do not raise these questions because doing so would probably somehow implicate you. It is sad for your students.
As for courses offered, I could not locate them on the website. Are you certain a listing is on that site? However, I did peruse the Honors Program readings and was neither impressed nor at all surprised (e.g., Rita Dove, Whitman, Shakespeare, George Eliot, John Milton, Phillip Roth, Flannery O’Conner, Swift, and Tom Stoppard). Can you even mention one writer on that list who has been highly critical of the canon and academic/literary established-order vaunting prizes and honors and general grandeur?
“Writers such as Flannery O'Connor, Thomas Pynchon, and Joyce Carol Oates were largely unknown before appearing in KR,” you state. Perhaps. Likely, however, they did not question and challenge the academic/literary established order that began feeding them so nicely.
Finally, the reason I suggested you consider subscribing to The American Dissident was not in the hope of “raising money” ($16 paltry dollars), but rather in that of offering your STUDENTS an alternative viewpoint to the Chamber-of-Commerce friendly writing normally promoted in academe. Evidently, offering a wide spectrum of viewpoints to students is never as important as protecting faculty from uncomfortable criticism. “We're struggling to survive in a changing world,” you note. Were you trying to make me laugh vis-a-vis that $1,000 banquet dinner? How could you possibly put Kenyon Review and The American Dissident in the same financial situation? “This is all part of the literary life of Kenyon College,” you state regarding that dinner and hotel hopping with Richard Ford. Well, it sounds as bourgeois as it gets…

G. Tod Slone, Ed.
The American Dissident, a Journal of Literature, Democracy & Dissidence
A 501 c3 nonprofit organization providing a forum for vigorous debate, cornerstone of democracy,
And for examining the dark side of the academic/literary established-order milieu
1837 Main St.
Concord, MA 01742

G. Tod said...

To date, no other professors have contacted me. I've since contacted the Kenyon Collegian and await a response. Often, though not always, editors of student newspapers tend to reflect the closed minds of their English professors.

Luis said...

$1,000.00? Who has $1,000.00? I don't and I work my ass off in a real job, while writing poems when I have time. $500,000.00 for one poet is a spit in the face to those of us who do not kowtow to the establishment, whose poems would not even be considered for publication. You ask a question & they stick out their hand, panhandling for their "influential"
poets, their "honorees," who are struggling in a changing world. What a crock of mierda.

G. Tod said...

Tienes enteramente razon, Luis! Gracias por tus palabras.

dansklar95 said...

I learn more about writing from watching my tuxedo cat move than from the writers listed in the Kenyon Review letter. I'm surprised David Lynn missed the tuxedo metaphor in regards to the uptight, closed-minded, prestige oriented, practices of this kind of English department literary journal. Is he a public relations man or a professor? Doesn't David Lynn see the irony of speaking so off-offhandedly about having their $1,000.00 dinner in New York while many writers and small press journals struggle without the support of an institution? He talks about the "current economic climate" as if everyone is flush with cash at any other times. Talk about out of touch. I think that the Kenyon Review should have the guts to publish a few poems of G.Tod Slone and to take into account his common sense criticism. There has to be room for criticism in academia. It is the obligation of literary journals to provide the space for dissenting voices and to embrace free speech.