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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 23. 23rd September 1973

English Impasse

English Impasse

Dear Sir,

The protracted 'dialogue' between staff and students in the English Department remains at an ignominious impasse. Despite numerous meetings, representations, discussions and requests, the English Department remains firm in its committment to a 'canon' of English literature and the group of students seeking change becomes increasingly frustrated and upset. The real Cause of this unhappy state of affairs is, as Gordon Campbell pointed out in His Salient article of August 29, that "a basic conflict exists over what an English major is for. "It seems to me unfortunate that, while the department has proferred its views on this matter, no member of the student group has yet made a coherent case from a 'radical' perspective. Even Gordon Campbell's perspicacity seems limited to a statement of the problem, rather than an attempt to resolve it.

I am sure that both staff and students would agree that, in examining the purpose and function of an English major, we are necessarily required to investigate the purpose and function of literature, indeed of an, as a whole. And art's major function, surely, (if I may be permitted to over-simplify) is to give us some sort of 'awareness', an 'awareness' which has significance beyond the immediate present, an 'awareness' which, through a unique exploitation of imaginative and concrete, both reveals (?) the nature of the human Condition to us, and in a sense, frees us from the restrictions which that condition involves. To quote Hegel: "For in human Art we are not merely dealing with playthings, however useful or pleasant they may be, but with the liberation of the human spirit from the substance and forms of finite condition." Any study of art, then must surely be designed, at the very least, to make the student aware of the powers of art and the importance of artistic experience.

It follows that if one is committed to English literature as a means of arriving at that level of perception which art incites and requires, then one will structure the English major so that that goal may (hopefully) be realised. And it is the department's fear, justifiable in my opinion, that the goal will not be realised by pandering to student predilections for Bellow and Kesey. It is not a question of denying students the right to be interested in, or to value, a particular literary genre. It is rather a belief that the 'awareness' which the study of literature can yield will be atrophied by allowing a student (who claims to be an English major) the opportunity to narrow his vision to one or two genres, or one or two periods.

But I don't wish to whitewash the department, indeed, in order to palliate the guilt I feel at revealing these pro-establishment tendencies at so tender an age, I must express my complete agreement with the student group regards such serious anomalies as the language requirement, the retention of which is patently absurb. But I would suggest that, until the student group succeeds in undermining the nature or form of the department's commitment, their energies would be more usefully directed to remedying this sort of defect, rather than to attack the underlying creed.