If there were a 15-round fight between Mike Tyson and Hilary Swank, my money would be on Tyson. I realize that he is older now, but I still think he would be the go-to guy under those conditions.
Why would he accept the challenge? It would not build his reputation. Not only is Hilary Swank not a very good fighter, she is actually an actress who was in a movie where she played a fighter. It seems to me that the world would not stand up and applaud him for having put her out of the fight after three rounds. Probably, one half of one round would do it, and even so, he would not be heralded as the master of the ring.
I don’t think he would take up the challenge. But what if Hilary had kept going to the press and insisting that she could beat him to a pulp? What if the press began taking her seriously? How would Mike handle this problem? Poorly, in all likelihood.
I know exactly how he would feel. This is my problem in responding to the academic equivalent of Hilary Swank. I have been publicly attacked by a lady who has a Ph.D. in English. She has said that I really don’t know what I am talking about in the field of literary analysis. She said I have misrepresented one of the greatest literary con men in American history: Henry David Thoreau.
She has a reputation for being a writer. She occasionally writes in a libertarian magazine. She also has a book with her name on it, which is generously called a textbook by her New York City publisher. Actually, it is not a textbook. It is a collection of other people’s writings. She then makes brief comments on these writings.
This genre has been around for about half a century. Somebody with a Ph.D. collects extracts snippets out of journal articles, or snippets of primary source documents (preferably not copyrighted), and tries to find a publisher that sells textbooks to colleges: books with extremely high markups. The publisher targets the book, so-called, at captive college students. It costs the company about three dollars to print the book in paperback, and the book is sold for about $125 to the hapless students, who cannot escape. Robert Nisbet described this academic genre a generation ago: great snippets. He regarded this as one of the marks of the decline of higher education in America.
In the 1960-61 academic year, I wrote a satire piece for the campus newspaper on snippets books. I remember only my proposed title for one such collection: Readings in the Fetal Pig. The target of my satire knew exactly what I was referring to. He was hauling in royalties from two of these collections: Oliver Johnson of the famous Beatty and Johnson collection of snippets of Western civilization, which is still generating royalties at $90 each for two paperbacks. He mentioned this to me, somewhat defensive. I remained politely silent. Neither of them could teach worth a hoot, but they surely could snip.
Yet she did not write the book. Her father wrote it. That is to say, he collected it. It has been around for over 40 years. She re-edited it, and added comments. The book is on rhetoric. Maybe she will include this article in the next edition. I am pretty good at rhetoric.
The key to understanding her book, according to the publisher, is that it is not meant to be understood. The publisher’s blurb says this: “Best of all, the text’s short, easy-to-read essays ensure that your class time will focus not on what the readings mean, but on what they mean for your students’ writing.”
With this as background, I begin my response. She thinks I do not know how to read critically. She wrote an article on my inability to read critically. She found a publisher. That was her first punch in round one.
Someone sent me a link to her article on October 30. I shall now complete the round.
THOREAU: MASTER OF THE POSE
The debate is over Henry David Thoreau’s book, Walden (1854). I regard it as a classic example of how the academic Left resurrects a book that almost nobody read when it was published. College professors then force generations of students to read the book. They substitute Cliff’s Notes. Nobody else reads it. They may buy it — “It’s a classic” — but they don’t finish reading it. It’s one of those books to which this rule applies: “Don’t read it while smoking in bed.”
Outside of English departments, the book is rarely assigned. Thoreau was a poseur. His neighbors knew this, which is why they were not impressed by Walden.
I wrote an article in mid-April on the nature of Thoreau’s pose, and how his legion of promoters fail to mention this. They praise him to the stars. I went through the Wikipedia article on him, line by line, exposing the nature of his con game, and the academic community’s continuation of his con game, especially English departments.
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)