Victorian Poetry 41.3 (2003) 359-364
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Donald E. Hall
We are engaged currently in an important discussion in literature and cultural studies departments about publication requirements for tenure and promotion. What constitutes significant and sufficient research, and how should our guidelines change to recognize the wide variety of writing that we do, or might do, as busy and engaged professionals? Certainly traditional monographs and scholarly articles remain impressive vita items when one makes a case for professional advancement. However, I [End Page 359] would argue that there are other forms of professional writing that can have a profound impact on readers and demonstrate thorough scholarship, and that should be valued highly by tenure and promotion committees. I am very favorably impressed with the volumes that have appeared in the past four years in the "Routledge Critical Thinkers" series. These are important scholarly works written by an impressive list of British literary and cultural critics. We in the United States should not only read these volumes and recommend them heartily to our students, but we should also think about how our professional practices and standards can be adjusted to encourage and value similar writing by our own colleagues.
The series was inaugurated in 1999 by Robert Eaglestone of the University of London, whose editor's preface states that the "books in this series offer introductions to major critical thinkers who have influenced literary studies and the humanities." There are now fourteen volumes in print and more forthcoming, all examining well-known theorists of the past century or so. Written primarily for graduate students and advanced undergraduates, these clearly expressed and well-designed volumes have, however, an even wider potential impact than the university classroom would offer. The books in the "Routledge Critical Thinkers" series make a compelling case even to well-educated general readers for the importance of concerted intellectual engagement with questions such as "why do we believe what we believe?" and "why do we do what we do?" I was pleased to see them recently on the shelves of my local Borders, and Barnes and Noble, bookstores. Eaglestone ends his preface by addressing and challenging his readers: "This series hopes to begin to engage you in an activity which is productive, constructive and potentially life-changing." I have read now all volumes published to date in the series, and I believe he has the right to feel quite optimistic in that regard. They are generally works of extraordinary quality and wide significance.
I will begin my brief overview here of the most memorable volumes in the series with the first one published: Edward Said, by Bill Ashcroft and Pal Ahluwalia, from 1999. Following the format of the series, the book opens with an introduction that asks and answers the question "Why Said?," then offers several body chapters organized around "Key Ideas," and concludes with a brief discussion of "After Said." Ashcroft and Ahluwalia examine carefully Said's central role in establishing the field of post-colonial studies, interweaving synopses of Said's most important critical interventions with their own meta-commentary on how Said demonstrated the potential for effective political activism by a member of the academic elite. As with many of the other successful series entries on recent critics, they make a strong case for the exemplary nature of this theorist's life and work, as well as the usefulness of the theories being summarized. [End Page 360] This is a book that challenges its readers to engage with the world beyond the print text. Students will come away from it well informed; seasoned scholars will be energized.
Less immediately energizing, though still quite useful, is Pamela Thurschwell's Sigmund Freud from 2000. Thurschwell examines the thorough saturation of our culture by Freudian concepts and makes a strong case for the continuing utility of psychoanalytic analysis in contemporary cultural criticism. In doing so, she dispels misconceptions about Freud's work (that he is "sex-obsessed," for example [p. 2]), but does not shy away from the serious critique of Freudian paradigms offered by feminists and Lacanians, among others. Her section...