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??? COHPAnATIST JOHN M. ELLIS. LiteratureLost: SocialAgendas andthe Corruption ofthe Humanities. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1997. 262 pp. The subtitle ofJohn Ellis's latest book encapsulates his hard-hitting thesis. Ellis goes toe to toe with some of academe's most sacred icons, from Stanley Fish to Fredric Jameson, and he leaves them reeling, lashed by his deft use of their own words. What empowers Ellis's book is his inexhaustible knowledge ofWestern history and culture and his logician's ability to expose faulty reasoning even in the highest halls ofacademe. Literature Lost took courage to write, for Ellis ends by saying that one ofthe most politically correct ofall hiring practices, affirmative action , has actually hurt both those whom it was intended to help and also the nations that have subscribed to its practices. Ellis is a respected author ofbooks on German literature and on literary theory. He is also a founder and past officer ofthe Association ofLiterary Scholars and Critics and currently serves on its Council. Like the Association members, Ellis would like to see a return to the primacy ofliterature and believes that the increasing intrusion ofpolitical agendas into literary study has diminished both curricula and scholarship. Because ofhis background in German studies and because ofhis European roots, Ellis's warnings, that the seemingly innocuous and moral-sounding goals ofthe race-gender-class critics can be distorted into ethnic hatred and even purges, have a frightening edge to them. The university, the very institution that ought to be a calming or leavening agent for reflection on important social and moral issues, now is the last place, Ellis charges, where such objective examination can occur. As a historian, Ellis frequently asks, "How did all this happen?" Ellis traces the attack by many contemporary literary critics on Western culture to two basic impulses. One, which he identifies with Rousseau, is essentially the frustrated insider's disenchantment with Western civilization. But unlike Rousseau, who blamed society for perceived flaws, the new PC proponents blame Western civilization itself, or elements within that civilization, such as capitalism or white males. We make a mistake, Ellis says, ifwe instill in our students a hatred for our own culture, and we falsify history and reality ifwe hold up Third World nations as somehow more pristine and utopie in their treatment ofwomen and minorities. Does even the most avid feminist in Europe or America today, he asks, really want to return to Africa, for example, with its tradition of female circumcision? Or to Asia, where Ellis quotes a New York Times article that estimates that more than 60 million women (victims ofbride burnings, or ofthe killing offemale babies, or of suttee, the ritualistic forced suicide ofwidows) have been exterminated? Ellis's statistics and his comments on ethnic purging in the former Yugoslavia, and in modern Sri Lanka are equally chilling. And he warns that ifwe continue to denigrate the Western tradition and to increasingly teach the great classics ofWestern civilization as nothing more than victim/victimizer, race against race, class against class, then we move perilously close to creating our own Bosnia, as people see themselves not as part ofa greater humanity, that precious ideal passed down by the Western Enlightenment , but rather as victims and oppressed members ofthreatened classes, ethnicities, or gender groups. Self-criticism is part ofany viable culture, Ellis says, but we must not indiscriminately tear down Western civilization or falsify its values vis-à-vis the rest of the world, or we do great harm to the very values—such as equity and fairness in dealing with others—that the race-gender-class critics profess to revere. In addition to the frustrated insiders who, like Stanley Fish, attack WestVcH . 23 (1999): 171 REVIEWS ern society because it does not realize their high goals for it, there are also the alienated outsiders, those citizens of the Third World, who chafe under Western technological dominance. Unwilling to accept blame for their current state, some such citizens often create utopie, prehistoric pasts that prevent them from clearly addressing current and future problems. Armed with these heroic myths, they further defend themselves by pointing to the cause ofall their difficulties—the colonizing West, ignoring any greater...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 171-172
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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