It's frequently remarked by conservatives that present-day liberalism tends to politicize every aspect of life. Or should I say "aims" instead of "tends"? I'm not sure to what extent this movement is intentional, but it's certainly evident. Feminism has surely played a big role in it, starting with "The personal is political" and all that. The study of literature was an early target in this politicization, and it seems to have succeeded fairly well. I recall a professor of literature at the small college where I work bragging--I think the word is fair--that "We teach feminism, we just don't call it that." (I think it was in the student paper, and I think he was talking about Shakespeare, but I don't remember for sure.)
He was a male. A white male, of course. I'm always a puzzled and often disdainful of white men who have so internalized the left-wing and feminist attack on them that they seem willing to commit something close to cultural suicide. Around the same time that I read that professor's remark, I had a conversation with a young man of literary inclinations in which he acquiesced to the cultural judgment against his kind. He was a recruiter in the admissions office. Chatting with him one day, I learned that he had been pursing a graduate degree in literature, but had given it up for various good reasons--the dismal job market, and so forth. Then he paused, and added "Anyway, that's not a good place for a white male to be these days." And after another pause: "And that's ok."
I don't know what reaction I exhibited, but I distinctly remember what I felt: disgust. And what I thought: where's your manhood? Now that was an odd thing for me to think, because I'm distinctly lacking in machismo. But this is too unmanly--or, never mind gender, too deficient in elemental self-respect. To welcome to the study of literature, or anything else, those who have been unwelcome or excluded is a good thing. To snivel and abase oneself and cry "unclean! unworthy!" because of one's gender and ancestry is contemptible. Western culture--the "white male" heritage--is one of the finest achievements of the human race. To make its defects its whole is both stupid and dishonest. To be a product of it, and to participate willingly in the effort to destroy it, is, again, contemptible.
Yesterday I came across a pathetic whimper from a young white male who wants to write but is so stricken with cultural self-hatred that he wonders whether he has the right to do so:
I am a white, male poet—a white, male poet who is aware of his privilege and sensitive to inequalities facing women, POC, and LGBTQ individuals in and out of the writing community—but despite this awareness and sensitivity, I am still white and still male. Sometimes I feel like the time to write from my experience has passed, that the need for poems from a white, male perspective just isn’t there anymore...
You can read the whole thing here, though I wouldn't recommend it.
My first question about this was whether it was a joke or not. As far as I can tell it is not. My second question was whether his sad condition is more his own fault or the fault of the educational and social environment which produced him. I suspect that the world does not need his poems, but perhaps he really is a poet, in which case his spine will stiffen.
The same day I came across that piece, I read about a high-school teacher who objects to being forced to teach Shakespeare:
I am a high school English teacher. I am not supposed to dislike Shakespeare. But I do. And not only do I dislike Shakespeare because of my own personal disinterest in reading stories written in an early form of the English language that I cannot always easily navigate, but also because there is a WORLD of really exciting literature out there that better speaks to the needs of my very ethnically-diverse and wonderfully curious modern-day students.
And you can read that whole thing here, but the teacher is even worse than the poet: he's ashamed of being privileged, but she's proud of being a clod. It's almost worth reading to the end to see her cap it off by misusing a word in a way which suggests that she doesn't understand the conventional figure of which it's a part. I'll save you the trouble:
Let’s let Shakespeare rest in peace, and start a new discussion about middle and high school right-of-passage reading and literature study.
I'd like to say that it surprises me to encounter this in an English teacher, but I'm not that naive.
So along comes Elizabeth Stoker Breunig of The New Republic to correct the teacher. But the cure is as bad as the disease. Or rather just a variant of the disease. Her justification for reading Shakespeare and other "old, dead white men" is that they are readily harnessed to the same political wagon the teacher is riding:
The past...should not be the sole province of those who would go back in time: It can also be a very powerful resource for those with progressive hopes for the future, supposing they do more than dismiss it out of hand.
The dreary title of the piece pretty much sums it up: "The Progressive Case for Teaching Shakespeare".
You wonder if these people ever have any thoughts that don't involve politics. But in the case of Breunig, we know that she does. You may recognize her name. She appeared on the punditry scene a couple of years ago. Seemingly overnight, her writing appeared all over the place. She attracted a lot of enthusiastic attention in Catholic circles, especially in leftist Catholic circles: she is a young convert, obviously very bright, and very much on the left politically. That's okay; we certainly have plenty of Catholic voices on the right, and it's good to have the balance. And she does write about things other than politics sometimes, as you can see at her web site. But she seems gripped by the left-wing impulse to make politics everything, and everything political. Maybe she'll grow out of it.