In response to yesterday’s blog post about an article on whether or not conservatives hate English classes, the writer and critic Scott Cheshire had this to say:

“Fascinating article – as is your response to it – I don’t know that I can contribute much to the conversation except this: my own background is quite specific, about as conservative as conservative can get, that of fundamentalist American Christianity. And so my experience, on one hand, might not be considered entirely representative, BUT, on the other hand, in the words of William James, one might call it the “exaggerated form.” In other words, we can learn more about a thing by seeing it as if through a microscope, and see its every possible distortion. With this in mind, I know this much: college as a whole is dangerous to the religious conservative. And not subconsciously – sermons and literature explicitly discourage, even forbid the furthering of education. Not in every case, sure, but certainly this was how it was in my case. I think the reason for this is obvious and you mention it – faith will be challenged. Now when it comes to English classes specifically, I have found the attitude more vague, almost disinterested, at times conflicted. Why? I believe this is because conservative religious thinking inherently has a deep respect for the written word. The book is important. Of course, that written word is the Bible and any affiliated religious literature (pamphlets, magazine, more books) – nevertheless there is something about the page – any page – that retains significance. And so one often finds the attitude shifts to a tone more like this: it’s not reading that is harmful, in fact it’s a potentially sacred act, but time wasted reading secular works is time that could be, and should be better spent reading biblical works. This for me is the crux of the problem (this you also mention above): art is all about questioning. Good art raises questions. Lesser art often gives you an answer, or the answer. Religious conservatism is in no way interested in questions, because they already have an answer, the answer, in fact. They have it all figured out. And so a painting, book, or a piece of music that gives rise, in some, to a feeling of melancholy (for instance) regarding the “meaning of life,” will largely not do so in the case of a religious conservative. I have experienced this myself (when I was a much younger man), and continue to witness this in the case of family and friends who are still very much a part of this culture. Now how does this relate to conservatives at large? Not sure. But I do have a sneaking suspicion that it has to do with a sort of watered down version of the same. English classes have traditionally used works of art to interrogate the meaning of human existence (within and without the work), but chiefly remain anchored to the work itself (what does David Copperfield mean? What can it tell us about life?); however, English classes now increasingly use these same works as occasions to more deeply interrogate the work of life outside the work (what does David Copperfield tell us about economic-gender roles with regard to post-industrial pre-post-modernism? ugh). This is scary for conservatives, because it raises the book to a more scared place – as they see it. The contemporary book (and so contemporary art) more directly competes with tradition. Although one would argue it does the opposite and wants only to bring both traditions down to the ground.”

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