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Tolkien studies as scholarship

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  • Dean Rowley
    ... 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
    Message 1 of 4 , Aug 15, 2007
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      >>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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    • Robin Reid
      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,
      Message 2 of 4 , 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.

        yours,

        Robin



        _____

        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

        __________________________________________________________
        Choose the right car based on your needs. Check out Yahoo! Autos new Car
        Finder tool.
        http://autos. <http://autos.yahoo.com/carfinder/> yahoo.com/carfinder/





        [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
      • Robin Reid
        sorry for the spam, but I need to make clear that this passage is quoted from Graff (my formatting in the previous email disappeared! I m sorry); Quote
        Message 3 of 4 , Aug 16, 2007
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          sorry for the spam, but I need to make clear that this passage is quoted
          from Graff (my formatting in the previous email disappeared! I'm sorry);

          Quote begins:

          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.

          Quote ends (Graff, page 99-100)

          _____

          From: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Robin Reid
          Sent: Fri 8/17/2007 12:15 AM
          To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
          Subject: RE: [mythsoc] Tolkien studies as scholarship



          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.

          yours,

          Robin



          _____

          From: mythsoc@yahoogroups <mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com> .com on behalf
          of Dean Rowley
          Sent: Wed 8/15/2007 1:10 PM
          To: mythsoc@yahoogroups <mailto:mythsoc%40yahoogroups.com> .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

          __________________________________________________________
          Choose the right car based on your needs. Check out Yahoo! Autos new Car
          Finder tool.
          http://autos. <http://autos./> <http://autos.
          <http://autos.yahoo.com/carfinder/> yahoo.com/carfinder/>
          yahoo.com/carfinder/

          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]






          [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
        • John D Rateliff
          ... My response is much simpler. I don t think you can justify treating a book as a literary work; you just do it. Shakespeare scholars don t waste pages
          Message 4 of 4 , Aug 17, 2007
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            On Aug 16, 2007, at 10:15 PM, Robin Reid wrote:
            > 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:

            My response is much simpler. I don't think you can justify treating a
            book as a literary work; you just do it. Shakespeare scholars don't
            waste pages arguing that W.S. was a good playwright; Joyce scholars
            don't debate whether J.J. was an innovative wordsmith; they just
            carry on as if what they believe to be true is so. Either a work's
            value is self-evident to those who read and want to discuss it, or
            it's not, and you're unlikely to convert someone who doesn't see any
            merit in it into someone who does. In the early days of fantasy
            scholarship, writers like de Camp and Lin Carter wasted a lot of time
            trying to claim that practically all of modern literature was a side-
            track and that fantasy was the mainstream going back as far as the
            earliest written records; they would have served the field better
            simply by writing their essays better.



            > a quote from Gerald Graff, _Beyond the Culture Wars_ :

            > . . . 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.

            I may be reading him wrong, but Graff seems to me to be suggesting,
            with the Deconstructionists of the early 80s, that the quality of the
            work of art doesn't matter, only the cleverness and profundity of the
            critic. If so, I disagree. Thanks for posting the interesting excerpt
            though.

            --John R.
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