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English after the Fall: From Literature to Textuality
by Robert Scholes
University of Iowa Press, 2011
Paper: 978-1-60938-055-7
Library of Congress Classification PE65.S36 2011
Dewey Decimal Classification 807.11

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 cannon 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.

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