The worst truth about the engine

(that's what the valve knows)

I was interested to read, via Amardeep Singh, about the new group blog, The Valve. Surprised, too, to find some friends and acquaintances there. I think it’s promising, but somehow it makes me feel flat, too and I’m not quite sure why.

By contrast, I was really excited to read the Bloggers Interview on the Emerging Writers Forum (via Chekhov’s Mistress). What’s the difference?

The Valve is a group of people pondering (in individual entries) how to do literary criticism; the individual bloggers are just doing it. None of these people are theoryheads, though many of them are well-versed in literary theory and have a lot of respect for the best that theory has to offer a critic (guidance, perspective, an idea or standard against which to judge a work of art). In the case of all these writers, what attracts me is the clear love of reading that remains their central motivation. Part of my skepticism about the Valve comes from its sponsorship by the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics. But why the skepticism? With an epigraph from the great iconoclast Empson and Christopher Ricks (the Tennyson scholar who loves Dylan) and Rosanna Warren (the translator and also daughter of Robert Penn Warren). In short, these are my kind of people, but I don’t want to be part of their club.

Partly I hesitate because I fear that their loud proclamations of loving literature come from too narrow an aesthetic: there’s a kind of young fogeyism about them that I don’t find in the bloggers. Also because I remember they began in protest over the evils of the MLA: that's an inbred political origin and seems at odds with the anti-political readings of literature they advocate. Knowing all the dangers and limitations of identity criticism, I still want to know that there is a place for women, for feminists, for writers of color, for writers from other social classes. And I mistrust myself and others enough to find that it can be helpful just to run a quick check: are we being as diverse as we hope to be?

Moreover, I fear the ALSC folks are institutionalizing idiosyncrasy where the bloggers are just exhibiting it. Nonetheless, it may be the case that the Valve transcends the limitations of its sponsoring organization. The recent post on the relative neglect of Charles Chesnutt (on account, it’s suggested, of his gentility), however, is as much about the sad state of academic politics and political correctness as it is about teaching us what’s ultimately really cool and rich about The Marrow of Tradition (a great book).

In Three Guineas, Woolf proposed an Outsider’s Society and then, upon the publication of the pamphlet was somewhat alarmed to receive letters from folks seeking to join. I think much of my hesitation comes from a reluctance to join. The Bloggers interview asks us to join nothing, just to read. That, I find inspiring.