Sunday, October 08, 2006

Howells, Tennyson, and Radiohead

From the New York Observer:

To judge from What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?, Michael Bérubé, a literature professor at Penn State, seems to be one of those strange academics who actually enjoys the undergraduates. While teaching William Dean HowellsThe Rise of Silas Lapham, for instance, he gets at the issue of social capital without help from Karl Marx or Pierre Bourdieu—instead, he heads straight for Thom Yorke.

If he wants to explain to his class that the novel’s protagonist “is displaying the fact that he knows enough to know the ‘right’ kind of thing to say about Tennyson in 1875 … basically saying, ‘I like his early work, but his recent stuff is kind of weak,’” Mr. Bérubé can translate the notion into an idiom his students will easily grasp: It’s like saying, “I liked Radiohead up until they released Kid A, but since then they’ve been spinning their wheels.”

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