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18596RE: [mythsoc] Tolkien studies as scholarship

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  • Robin Reid
    Aug 16, 2007
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      Re: people who assume that some topics/subjects lack "substance."

      This attitude is a common one those of us in popular culture, feminist and
      queer studies, and fan studies face. I have two responses: the first is a
      quote from Gerald Graff, _Beyond the Culture Wars_ (Graff started out on one
      side of the culture wars in the US then was seduced over to what I consider
      my side):

      Graff, page 99-100: If pure difficulty is the only issue, a popular film or
      romance can be made as taxing to study as any other work.

      For what creates difficulty--and here is the point I have been driving
      at--is not just the object of study but the kind of question being asked
      about it. There is no functional connection between the status level of a
      text (however this may be measured) and the degree of complexity of
      difficulty attained by the interpretation of it for some hypothetical
      average reader. The word "the" becomes difficult when its historical
      development and grammar are studied by philologists or linguists, and a
      paper clip could be made difficult by being studied in relation to the
      history of metals or technology. By the same token, it does not follow that
      culturally acknowledged great works generate a more substantial,
      challenging, and less interesting critical or pedagogical discourse than do
      less valued works.

      My second response is to invite people to sit in or take our team-taught
      Tolkien course (I teach with a medieval historian, and we cover Tolkien in
      the context of historical "layer" from Beowulf to Postmodernism), or any of
      the other classes where I cover authors or topics considered to "lack
      substance" (amazing how many people will claim something they've never read
      or viewed can lack substance).

      My students are not immune to this attitude as well: the first time we
      taught the Tolkien class as a special topic, we lost half the class who were
      shocked, shocked (in one young man's case, who dropped in week 1, that we
      were assigning *three* books) at the difficulty of the work.




      From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Dean Rowley
      Sent: Wed 8/15/2007 1:10 PM
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [mythsoc] Tolkien studies as scholarship

      >>Merlin DeTardo wrote:

      >>But if one must be cautious of the Scylla of assuming that the
      >>published material is all, I've also seen Tolkienists fall into the
      >>Charybdis of a "it's just around the corner" attitude; that if only
      >>those inexplicably greedy linguists would release the material, we
      >>could all speak fluent Sindarin at our wedding ceremonies, and peace
      >>and joy would reign throughout the world.

      >I once read a comparison* of that attitude to the controversy
      >surrounding the publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

      I have some friends still in teaching who keep asking me why I waste time
      researching Tolkien when I could study something of more substance. I will
      use this to show that substance is in the eye of the beholder.

      Dean Rowley

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