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Louis Menand

Louis Menand is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University. His areas of interest include 19th and 20th century cultural history. His books include the[…]

A conversation with the Harvard University English professor.

Louis Menand: My name is Louis Menand, and I’m Professor of English at Harvard.

Question: What do you setrnout to accomplish when you write a literary essay?

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Louis Menand:  I’m trying to make the subjectrninteresting to other people, that’s the main job of being a writer. Becausernit’s a subject that I’m interested in, so that’s what I really care about, Irndon’t really usually push an agenda, and I don’t feel that my main job is tornpersuade people of something.  Myrnmain job is to help them think about something.

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Question: Who is yourrnpresumed audience when you write? 

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Louis Menand:  For the kind of places I’ve written forrnand the kind of writing that I’ve done, the general way to think about yourrnaudience is to think about somebody who’s like yourself, but in a completelyrndifferent discipline.  So Irngenerally think of a biologist, or professor of biology.  So if I’m writing about T. S.rnEliot,  this is probably someonernwho’s heard of T. S. Eliot, may have read some T. S. Eliot in college, butrndoesn’t know a whole lot more about T. S. Eliot, because they’re busy doing morernimportant things with their brains, but they might be interested in somethingrnthat I have to say about T. S. Eliot. rnSo I have to write it in a way that appreciates that this person’srnprobably very well educated, a smart person, and at the same time, doesn’t knowrnanything effectively about what it is I’m writing about.  And that’s really the trick of writingrnfor places like the New York Review of Books or the New Yorker, which are twornof the places that I’ve written a lot for.

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So that’s really my audience.  Now, the actual audience could be very different, could be arnlot of retired high school teachers, or, you know, or graduate students orrnanybody.  It’s very hard to knowrnwho your readers are, but that’s who I’m... if I have somebody in my head, that’srnprobably who it is.

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Question: Is LionelrnTrilling still your model of a great critic, as he was when you started?

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Louis Menand:  When I was young, I went to college,rnhad a teacher who was, had been a student of Trilling’s at Columbia, this wasrnin California.  And he, I started readingrnhim around that time, and then I went to Columbia as well, Trilling was stillrnteaching there, I took a course with him. rnHe was not a great teacher, but he was, when I was younger, he was arngood model for the kind of criticism I wanted to do, because he thought veryrndialectically.  That is to say, herncould see in any particular cultural moment, things that were happening andrnthings that were going on that would undermine whatever was happening.  He had a very good feel for howrncultural change takes place, and that’s a really complicated question thatrncriticism addresses, I think.  Sornthat turn of mind that he had is something that really got me interested inrnbeing able to write that way.

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Now, I wouldn’t say he’s a model at all for me now, andrnprobably has not been somebody I’ve read for a very long time.  But when I was young, that was kind ofrnwhat got me interested in doing this kind of writing.

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Question: What is therncultural role of a literary critic now?

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Louis Menand:  I think in the, for most of the 20thrncentury, and certainly through the period when I was in school, print was kingrnand literature was thought to be the essence of a society or a civilization’srnexpression of itself.  You learnedrnFrench literature or you learned British literature or you learned Americanrnliterature because that was a way of understanding that particularrnculture.  And I think print is nornlonger king, no duh, and I also think that the idea that there’s such a thingrnas a national literature that’s somehow uniquely expressive of a national soulrnor culture or mentality is probably also something that nobody really believesrnin anymore.

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So the kind of criticism that a Trilling could practice orrnan Edmund Wilson could practice in the 1940’s, 1950’s, is obsolete in thatrnsense.

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Secondly, I think that when Trilling wrote the essays inrn“The Liberal Imagination,” which came out in 1950, he was writing for educatedrnpeople, most of them not academics, because the book was actually a bestsellerrnand bought by people far outside the academy. But it was a readership of peoplernwho believed that your taste in literature or your taste in music or your tasternin painting actually told people something about your values, in particularlyrnyour political values.  That’s whatrn“The Liberal Imagination,” that volume, is all about.  I don’t think people believe that any more, I don’t thinkrnpeople think that it really matters whether you appreciate Henry James morernthan Theodore Dreiser, to use an example that Trilling used, or whether yournprefer the Beatles to the Sex Pistols, or whatever the current version of thatrnargument is, I think people like to have the argument, but I don’t think theyrnthink a whole lot turns on which side you come out on.

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So to that extent, the job of the critic, as it might havernbeen conceived in the 1950’s or 1960’s, was some kind of role of moral arbiterrnfor people, not a huge number of people, but people who were, you know, fairlyrneducated, well-placed people.  Irndon’t think anybody really thinks of critics as performing that function anyrnmore.  To me, that’s a good thing,rnbecause to me, I think, you want to have available to people lots ofrnopportunities to experience literature, art, movies, whatever it is, withoutrnfeeling that there’s some moral question that’s involved in thatrnappreciation.  Sometimes there is,rnsometimes it’s important to engage it, but I don’t think that taste should bernthe decider of moral issues.

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But I think that’s, that was another reason that criticism hadrnits great moment in the mid-years of the twentieth century and why it’srndifferent now. 

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And the final reason is that one of the functions ofrnliterary criticism, or reviewing, generally—and I, most of my reviews actuallyrnare not about literature—but one of the functions of that is basically thernsort of Consumer Reports function of letting readers know whether this isrnsomething they want to read.  Andrnthat function is now performed pretty much for nothing online.  So if you’re reviewing a new book—thisrnhappened to me a couple years ago—I was reviewing a book and I finished thernreview, pretty much on time, that is, pretty much when the book was scheduledrnto come into the stores and I went on Amazon just to see what the sales are,rnand they are already 25 reviews on Amazon and just by the wisdom of crowds, ifrnyou read all 25 reviews, you got a pretty good sense of the book, you reallyrndidn’t need me to tell you about it. rnThat content cost nothing and it was available for nothing.  So there’s a different business modelrnfor reviewing than there was when I started out.

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Question: Where do wernstand today in relationship to modernism and postmodernism?

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Louis Menand:  Yeah, well, that’s one of thosernquestions that you can’t answer.  Irnmean, yeah, we’re probably post-postmodernism?  But what was postmodernism such that we’re post of it?  So it’s pretty tricky.

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But I think that the period of the 50’s and 60’s was arnperiod of kind of high veneration of the modernists, like Eliot, and comparablernfigures in the world of art, and so on. rnAnd the 60’s and the 70’s kind of replaced that with a differentrncanon.  So when I started out, Irnwas actually a Victorianist, that was my field.  I did 19th Century British literature, but by some fluke ofrnthe job market, I got a job teaching modern literature and ended up writing arnbook on T. S. Eliot, who was, in those days, sort of king of modern literaryrnform, and criticism as well.

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But now the canon’s very different from that period, peoplerndon’t write about Eliot and Pound any more, so that’s really changed arnlot.  And I think our sensibilityrnis not modernist anymore, that is, sensibility of people who are interested inrnart and literature.

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Question: Are wernexperiencing a broader decline in cultural literacy?

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Louis Menand:  I wouldn’t say that.  I mean, it’s, decline’s a funny word tornuse about any cultural moment.  Irnthink things are different from the way they were 40 or 50 years ago, but thernmedia are different, interests are different, you know, the demographics arerndifferent.  It’s just a differentrnworld.

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Just in higher education alone, more people go to collegernnow, by enormous amounts, than went to college in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.  So that represents a whole new literaternpublic that’s a consumer of literature, of news, of print, of, you know,rnopinion.  And that’s a biggerrnaudience and much more diverse audience than it used to be.  So it’s really hard to talk aboutrndecline.  I think it’s just thingsrndo shift.  And then when thingsrnshift, one’s own role in the culture shifts along with it and you have tornadjust to that.

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Question: What would bernyour ideal solution to the “problem of general education?"

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Louis Menand:  Yes, general education, of course, arernthe courses that every student’s required to take in order to graduate fromrncollege.  And most colleges thatrnhave a general education requirement, so called, use a distribution model, Irnthink that’s what Yale uses, in which students have to take three courses,rnusually, in each of the three divisions in the academy, natural science, socialrnscience, and arts and humanities. rnAnd generally, they can take any three courses.  So that doesn’t really add up to a veryrnprescriptive curriculum, obviously, because students can cherry-pick the coursesrnthat they’re interested in, or the courses they think will be easy.

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So a real general education model that is, say, one that Irnthink has some legitimacy is one that has requirements that actually are shapedrnby a rationale of the particular kinds of knowledge that students are going tornneed.  Columbia has one, Harvardrnhas one, Stanford and Princeton have them, obviously Chicago, St. John’s, theyrnhave a Great Books curriculum, and so on. rnSo, those are the models that are available.

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My own view is that the general education curriculum that arncollege picks has to be appropriate for the kind of student body that itrnhas.  I don’t think the samerncurriculum fits every student body. rnNow, that’s a little bit of a circular proposition, because Columbia hasrnthis Great Books curriculum, it’s called Literature and Humanities in thernContemporary Civilization, and they’ve had the same, roughly the samerncurriculum for about 50 years.  Sornwhen students apply to Columbia, they already know, they’re already selectingrnthat curriculum, that’s something that they want when they apply torncollege.  If you were to imposernsuch a curriculum at Harvard or Yale, students would object, probably, on therngrounds that they’re being required to do something that they basically didn’trnopt for when they applied.  SornColumbia kind of gets away with it because it’s grandfathered in, so to speak,rnto the institution.

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I think at a place like Harvard, our experience, I wasrninvolved with, at various stages, in trying to implement a new generalrneducation curriculum, our experience was that Harvard’s all aboutrnspecialization, that’s not just true of the professori, it’s also true of a lotrnof the undergraduates, too, and they come, they kind of know what they want torndo, they select it because they have a strong aptitude for something inrnparticular.  So to try to have arnkind of one-size-fits-all general education curriculum for them will probablyrnnot fly.  You know, you have tornhave students wanting to take the courses, otherwise you’re not going, they’rernnot going to be very effective.

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So Harvard has something that manages, I think, to provide arnlot of options for students, but still fairly prescriptive about the kinds ofrnsubjects that the courses ought to cover. rnJust started, the new curriculum has just begun this year, it actuallyrnseems to have gotten off to a pretty good launch.

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Question: To what extentrnare curricula shaped by “consumers” (parents of students)?

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Louis Menand:  Yeah, zero.  Because, I mean, ideally, zero.  Because the way universities operate is the decision aboutrnwhat students need for the degree are... is the decision made by thernfaculty.  Should not be made by anyrnother group, administrators, trustees, parents, students, and so on.  Obviously input is helpful to facultyrnin trying to come up with a curriculum, but ultimately it’s the faculty’s jobrnto know what students need to know. rnMake a decision about it and present it.

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The difficulty with coming up with a curriculum is mainlyrnthat faculty aren’t trained to think in terms of general education.  They’re trained to think in terms ofrntheir own discipline, or their specialty. rnSo when they’re asked, what are your views about what everybody ought tornknow, it’s not something that they’ve ever really given thought to, it’s notrnpart of their training.  They havernviews, but they tend to be quite eccentric and quite different from onernanother.  So getting faculties torncome to a consensus about something that they’ve never really thought about orrnhad to worry about in their careers before can be a rather slow process and arnlong process, it certainly was the case at Harvard, and it’s the case with mostrnof the general education curricula that I know of, it takes four or five yearsrnjust to get everybody on board with one idea.

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Question: In what waysrncan professorial “groupthink” be harmful?

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Louis Menand:  Well, you want diversity in anyrnintellectual organization.  I mean,rnthat’s how good ideas arise.  Theyrnhave to do battle with less-good ideas. rnIf, to the extent that everybody is accepting roughly the same paradigmsrnfor inquiry and there’s certain expectations about what counts as good resultrnof your research, that’s not very good for diversity and it’s not very good forrnintellectual ferment, which is what you want to encourage.

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I mean, universities are set up to get people to workrntogether by having them disagree with each other.  So one of the difficulties with relative homogeneity ofrnopinion among professors is—I happen to be of the same opinion as mostrnprofessors, most professors are kind of liberal Democrats—it’s just that itrndiscourages people from getting into the profession, which it’s very difficultrnto get into anyway, because they feel they’re going to be discriminated againstrnor shunned or just not included in the conversation.  I don’t think that necessarily would be the case, but it’srndiscouraging to people.

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Basically what you want in any profession—I would say thernsame thing if I were a lawyer or a doctor—is you want bright undergraduates tornlook at your profession as something they would be interested in getting into.  If the barriers to entry are really highrnand there seems to be some requirement that you tailor your views to fit thernviews of your colleagues, it’s going to discourage people from entering andrnthey’ll go do something else that’s got a, you know, more reliable track to arncareer.

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So I do worry a lot about the time it takes for people tornget a PhD, about the difficulty of finding employment, about the difficulty ofrngetting tenure, and generally about the perception that undergraduates have,rnthat this is a very high-risk career to get started. And I don’t want people tornfeel that.  I want people to feelrnthis is something that would be fun to do, and doable.

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Question: How canrnuniversities become more ideologically diverse?

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Louis Menand:  Well, I think, I mean, there are lotsrnof, there are ways in which universities will never be a reflection of therngeneral opinion of the public and they probably shouldn’t be.  It’s generally sort of sociologicallyrnobserved that the better educated people are, the more liberal they tend to be,rnwhich would suggest that professors are going to be more liberal than therngeneral public.  And I don’t thinkrnthat you want to see universities in any way trying to have any kind of quotarnsystem about political views, or views in general.  You want the market to work in the way the market works.

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But I think that one of the things that would make it arnlittle bit more likely to get diversity into—I would just say to oxygenate thernsystem that we’re working in—would be to make it a little easier to get arnPhD.  Sometimes I think we shouldrnjust give more PhD’s, but even if we didn’t get more PhD’s, if we just didn’t,rnif we didn’t make it 8 or 9 or 10 years to get a PhD, I think it wouldrnencourage people to enter who would otherwise find lots of reasons why itrnwasn’t a very wise thing to do.

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Question: Are humanitiesrndegrees high-risk?

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Louis Menand:  Yeah.  Well, I think the time to degree is right now the bigrnobstacle to entry into the professions. rnNow, the median time to degree, to PhD in the humanities is nine years,rnand that’s time as a registered student. rnThe time between Bachelor’s degree and a PhD, the median time is over 11rnyears.  So then you’re still onlyrnon a tenure ladder, you’re not tenured. rnSo it generally takes 6 to 8 years after that to get tenure.  So that’s a very long period of what’srnessentially apprenticeship, of insecurity. rnI don’t think that’s very healthy for any business, certainly not for arnbusiness where you want people to be original and creative and take risks.  So I think that’s a big problem, andrnthe humanities seems to be doing worse than the other disciplines, though thernother disciplines also have increased time to degrees.

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Now, part of the reason for that is that it’s difficult tornget a job and people stay in school longer because they’re employed as teachingrnassistants or instructors by their schools, by their schools where they’rerngraduate students, and that does become exploitative eventually because they’rernvery cheap labor and there’s a way in which in it’s not in the institution’srninterest to give them a degree if they can continue to employ them, I don’trnthink anybody thinks that way, but effectively that’s the way the system isrnstarting to work.  That’s a badrnmorale problem and it’s something that gets into the mentality of the ABD’s, whorndo a lot of this teaching, and it’s not good for, again, not good forrncollegiality, and not good for intellectual culture.

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So I think everybody recognizes at this point that we’verngotten ourselves into a really weird situation where the supply curve and therndemand curve are just not, you know, where they should be and it would be veryrngood for the profession generally, and the humanities in particular, because wernhave a lot of other things that we’re struggling with and if we could get thernprofessional training part of it, a little more rational and efficient.

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Question: What is thernfuture of literary studies?

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Louis Menand: There has been this period of about 15 years ofrnanxiety, about sort of loss of exciting, theoretical paradigms, which were veryrnvibrant for about 20 or 30 years after the ‘60’s and it kind of gave life tornliterary studies, basically critical theory, post-structuralism, then feministrncriticism, and so on.  Queerrntheory... All these other, things were exciting and brought people into the fieldrnor gave people a new way of reading and teaching this material.  And then there’s been this kind ofrndrought for a little bit and the kind of post-theory moment, and so forth,rnwhich has, of course, been heavily theorized as well.

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And right now I feel that the sort of coming thing is thisrnuse of cognitive science and talking about why we read and how we read, andrnthere have been some books that people get excited about that have come out inrnthe last three or four years on the subject and cognitive science, generally, Irnthink is one of the places in the whole academy where things are happening thatrneverybody in other disciplines is now paying attention to.  Even in the economics department,rnthey’re paying a lot of attention to it. 

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So that seems to be, when I look at, for example,rnapplications to our graduate program, a lot of people, just even in college,rnare already expressing an interest in pursuing literary studies in combinationrnwith something in cognitive science. rnMy own view of the moment is I don’t really see cognitive science as actually adding all that much to what we’re able to do with texts, we’rernable to say about them.  But thatrncould change.  I mean, cognitivernscience is a rapidly developing area, so it could be that there are somernsurprises around the corner.  Thatrndoes seem to be kind of where the trend line is leading.  And you could say this is just anrneffort on the part of people in literature to get some, you know, street credrnin the academy by being scientific. rnBut it’s more than that, I think there’s a genuine feeling that this isrna kind of exciting way of repositioning the subject that we teach, getting awayrnfrom arguments about the canon and arguments about, you know, ranking, andrnwho’s the best author, and that kind of stuff and much more in the direction ofrnsomething that’s appropriate to scholarship and research.

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Question: What’s the mostrnvehement reader reaction you’ve ever gotten?

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Louis Menand: Onernof the oddities about responses that you get to what you write, if you get arnfair number of them, is that people have very different ideas of what yournsaid.  People tend to read with arnpreconceived idea of what the piece is about.  If there are nuances in the argument, they won’t pick themrnup.  Sometimes people won’t evenrnfinish a piece that you wrote, because they’ve already decided what it is thatrnyou want to say, and generally I, whatever I say in the first half of thernpiece, you should not assume I'm going to end up with, but they don’t finish readingrnthem.   So, and people readrnfast and stuff.  So you do get oddrnresponses, but a lot of that is just that, you know, that people are, justrnaren’t reading it quite the way that you wrote it.

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I think the, I guess the oddest response recently that I gotrnwas I wrote an editorial about Fox News, a comment, as the sort of editorial,rnfirst piece in the magazine.  Andrnthis was a response to some statement from the Obama administration that theyrnwere going to not treat Fox News reporters as real reporters.  So I wrote a comment about it, and Irnthink Fox News is fairly ridiculous—and certainly the opinionaters on Fox arernridiculous—and I’ve made some fun of them at the beginning of the piece, but I,rnat the end of the piece, which was only about 1,000 words, I said that Irnthought it was a bad idea for the state or the White House, whatever, to singlernout one news organization and say you’re not a real news organization.  I just think that’s a very chillingrnthing and the First Amendment is all about letting people, even people whosernviews your despise, have their say, because then at the end of the day, you canrnsay, "You had your say and you lost." rnIf you silence them, you don’t get to say that.  So I said this in the piece.

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So I got a very angry email from somebody who was a Fox Newsrnjunkie, who said, “You Harvard professors are all the same, Fox News is great,rnyou know, you’re full of it,” and so I wrote back and I said, “Did you finishrnreading the piece?”  And he said,rn“No, I didn’t bother, it was such drivel.”  So I was like, “But you bothered to write an email about it,rnisn’t that kind of weird?”  I mean,rnso you do get that.

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Question: After yourncriticized the “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” author, did people start critiquingrnyour grammar?

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Louis Menand:If you write for the NewrnYorker, you always get people critiquing your grammar, you can count onrnit.  So, because a lot of NewrnYorker readers are kind of, you know, amateur grammarians and so you do get arnlot of that.  So that, I’m used tornthat.

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But I think, yeah, with that piece, so this was this book byrnLynne Truss and it was a big, big bestseller in the US, and there were a lot ofrnbad things about it.  One was thatrnthe style of punctuation that she was explaining in the book is British stylernof punctuation, which doesn’t work in the United States, I mean, they haverndifferent rules, so it didn’t make sense that people buy this book in the USrnand think they were going to learn how to punctuate from it.

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And then the book itself was full of real, I mean, likernhowlers, I mean, really bad punctuation mistakes and some grammaticalrnerrors.  So I had to say this, Irnmean, you know, I just thought the world should, at least somebody should sayrnthat she doesn’t know how to punctuate.

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So the great thing was that there was a fuss in Englandrnabout it, apparently, and her editor was interviewed and he was asked about myrnreview, and he called me a "wanker"—which I thought was, you know, not veryrnclassy, but all right—and then itrnturned out that the next book Lynne Truss was going to write was civility, howrnthere’s no civility any more.  Shernshould start with her editor.

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Question: Have you seenrnAmerican literature develop a style influenced by MFA programs?

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Louis Menand:  Yes, I was reviewing a book by a guyrnnamed Mark McGurl, who teaches at UCLA, and which I think is a terrific book,rncalled, The Program Era, and the argument of the book is that American fiction,rnsince 1945 or 1950 has been highly influenced by the fact that so manyrnnovelists and so many people who teach novelists, have gone through writingrnprograms.  And it’s not a take-downrnin any way. His book, his book basically says that writing programs provide arncertain environment where a particular kind of fiction gets produced and thesernkinds of fiction are very interesting, they’re often very experimental, theyrntake fiction in directions that otherwise wouldn’t go. It doesn’t mean thatrneverything is being dumbed-down or cookie-cuttered.  And I thought that was very provocative and he gave somernpretty good readings of contemporary fiction to back up his claim about it. SornI would tend to agree with him.  Irnmean, it is different.  It’s a factrnof life since 1950 or so, that wasn’t true before that.  Writers had different ways ofrnorganizing themselves and different sort of social groupings in which tornperform their work.  But the factrnthat many of them go through the university now does affect what they write,rnbut doesn’t mean that they write it, what they’re writing isn’t interesting.

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As I said in that piece, I, myself, was a creativernwriting major in college and I look back on those experiences with greatrnfondness and I think they were very good for me, too.  So I think it’s a, it’s a totally appropriate thing to haverninside the academy.

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Question: Did studyingrncreative writing shape your own style?

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Louis Menand:  I wish I could say it made itrnbetter, but it certainly gave me lots of models to bounce off of and learnrnfrom.  And then part of it is justrnthat I wrote poetry, and you know, not that many people are into contemporaryrnpoetry, but if you can hang out with the people who are in your college, it’srnreally a wonderful thing to share and I really value that a lot.  So I’m glad I had the opportunity to dornit and I think it’s a good thing to, a good opportunity for students to have.

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Question: What books havernyou enjoyed reading recently?

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Louis Menand:  Yeah, I read a book actually, this wasrnkind of for business, but I really thought was great.  It’s called "Why Do We Care About Literary Characters?" andrnit’s by a professor at Stanford called Blakey Vermeule, and it’s an example ofrnwhat we were talking about earlier, which is trying to apply some of therndiscoveries of experimental psychology and cognitive science to novels, andrnparticularly ask the question why is it that people care very much about whatrnhappens to a fictional character, given that not only have we never met thisrnperson, but the person doesn’t exist. rnBut we actually, we see a movie or read a novel, and the bad guy getsrnaway with it, we’re pretty upset. rnWhy would we, why would we care? rnSo she has an explanation from evolutionary psychology, but she has somernother insights as well into what it means to read or what it means to identifyrnwith characters that have to do with the way we relate to other people.

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And even though I felt the cognitive science part of it Irncould take or leave, I thought that her manner of reading novels was great,rnit’s a wonderful book, and she just has a great voice as a critic and I felt Irnwould follow her wherever she went.

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Question: Have you everrnfound yourself caring deeply about a fictional character?

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Louis Menand:  Sure, of course, yeah, mostrnof them.  Hans Castorp probably,rnhero of "The Magic Mountain," when I was a kid I read that, I mean, not a kid,rnprobably about 20, and I remember being, like, deeply invested in thatrncharacter.  I don’t even know whyrnanymore, but I remember feeling it really mattered to me how things came outrnfor him.

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Yeah, no, that’s part of why, I suppose, I suppose everybodyrndoes get attached to characters whether in movies or in stories, but I thinkrnthat’s part of the reason you get involved with literature is because there’srnsomebody that grabs you about it and then you want to figure out why.  That’s part of what the job is, really,rnis to figure out what is it about this story or this character or this outcomernor this style or this voice that gets to you.  What’s getting to you? rnWhat does it mean?  Andrnthat’s really an interesting problem to try to figure out.  So that’s what this book was taking arnstab at doing and I just thought it was a pretty original and fresh and funrntake on the subject.

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Question: What advice dornyou have for an aspiring literary critic?

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Louis Menand:I think the only way I can answer that is to say it, in myrnown case, because people do, students do say, “Well, how did you get to be arnprofessor and also a magazine writer?” rnSo, my answer to that is that I didn’t plan it, A; B, that to be arnprofessor, you have to pay your professional dues, there’s no kind of shortcutrnto that.  So you have to write arndissertation, you have to publish an academic monograph, you have to have, yournknow, respective peers in your scholarly field and all of that stuff, you can’trnkind of substitute book reviews for that.

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At the same time, one of the good things about thernprofession of being a professor, is that you also have time to do whatrninterests you and what you care about or what you’re good at.  In my case that was, it did turn out tornbe magazine writing, I don’t know that I would’ve predicted that, but that’srnhow it turned out.

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So the fortunate thing for me is that my writing is such,rnthe way I naturally write is such that it’s just commercial enough forrnmagazines to publish it and just academic enough for me to have a career in thernacademy.  So it’s worked out reallyrnwell.  But I’m not one of thernpeople who has a kind of scholarly hat and writes in a certain way for anrnacademic audience and then puts on a public intellectual hat and writes arndifferent way for a different kind of readership.  I generally write the way I write, no matter what and itrnseems to have worked for me.

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So I think in general there’s no point in going into a fieldrnlike English literature if you’re not going to have fun with it.  I mean, you’re not going to getrnanything else out of it, you’re not going to get rich, you’re not going to getrnfamous, and you’re not going to really have a big affect on, you know, foreignrnpolicy.  But you are going to dornthings that if you’re interested in it, that nobody else can do with theirrncareers.  And if you’re not goingrnto enjoy it and have fun with it and feel like this is what you care about, Irndefinitely would not advise going down the very long road to get there.

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