New Column at Salon: An Interview with Rita Dove

There are few writers worthy of such high distinction, but to read Rita Dove is to encounter the transformative. Her feeling comes in aid of your feeling. Suddenly, you believe you have undergone an alteration of mind and spirit. Dove’s poetry breathes life onto the page and into the reader.

The Pulitzer Prize committee shared this assessment, awarding her the prize for poetry in 1987 for her beautiful, biographical treatment of her grandparents through a series of interconnected poems, “Thomas and Beulah.” Dove also received the National Medal of Arts commendation from President Barack Obama, who complimented her singular ability to “blend beauty, lyricism, critique, and politics.”

In a national moment of suffocation, it is for our civic health that we turn to those voices that offer the relief of oxygen.

Earlier this week, I interviewed Rita Dove about the power of poetry and the necessity of the arts, especially in times of political trouble and terror.

Read a transcript of our conversation at Salon.

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New Column at Salon: My College Students aren’t ‘Snowflakes’ – They are Tougher than their Critics

In my new column for Salon, I ridicule the sanctimonious and cowardly baby boomers who refuse to surrender their favorite hobby – demeaning young people.

My years of teaching experience at the college level have allowed me to meet many different students. I consistently find them smart, strong, and even inspiring. Studies of campus life demonstrate that “trigger warning,” “safe spaces,” and tantrums of “political correctness,” are actually quite rare, despite the alternative reality that boomers, and right wing media commentators, have invented.

I’ve had students who have survived cancer, recovered from the unexpected death of family members, lost their homes in natural disasters, and continue to work and study in the pursuit happiness, even while they suffer a financial burden for their education that previous generations never shouldered.

They are tougher, and better for the country, than their critics.

Read the column at Salon.

Weekend Column with Salon: “Real Americans” vs. “Coastal Elites” – The Truth Behind the Mindless Cliche

In my weekend cultural column with Salon, I unpack the idiocy of the popular juxtaposition of “coastal elites” and “real Americans.” Clearly, the term “elite” has no meaning if Donald Trump qualifies as an “anti-elite populist.”

All of the indignant talk about the evils of the elite is actually a disguise for anti-intellectualism. America worships wealth, but distrusts intellectual excellence. “Elitism” is code for expertise, not financial status, and “populism” is the celebration of intellectual mediocrity.

Read my explanation at Salon.

New Essay for The Daily Beast: Pulling the Plug On English Departments

In my new essay for the Daily Beast, I defend English Departments against the boneheaded belief that college students have no need to read narrative prose. In doing so, I also write about the techno-buffoonery and anti-intellectualism sweeping the country. The lowering cultural standards are particularly visible when major journals defend them.

As I begin the essay:

It is easy to observe the sad and sickly decline of American intellectual life, through the cultural and institutional lowering of standards, when prestigious publications promote the defense, if not the celebration, of lower standards.

 

Writing recently in TheNew Republic on the seemingly inevitable death of the college English department, James Pulizzi represents the shortsighted techno-boosterism and foolish progressivism that is rendering American culture increasingly superficial and frivolous.

 

“Within a few decades, contemporary literature departments will be largely extinct,” Pulizzi submits before predicting that “communications, composition, and media studies will take English’s place.”

 

Rather than expressing anxiety, or at least, worry over the impending destruction of one of the only mechanisms for introducing young Americans to a pillar of art, human history, and the Western tradition, Pulizzi credulously asks, “Why should college students read narrative prose when they get their fill of stories from television, cinema, and interactive video games?”

 

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously indicted the cultural condition of “defining deviancy down.” As standards migrate from the mountain to the basement, the formerly vulgar, indecent, and stupid becomes the norm. One can easily see how eventually thinkers like Pulizzi will delete a few words from their rhetorical question to simply ask, “Why should college students read?”

 

Read the rest here.

New Essay at The Daily Beast: Richard Hofstadter and America’s New Wave of Anti-Intellectualism

Twenty-first century philistines, suffering from a lack of imagination and curiosity, have seized upon understandable economic anxieties since the financial crash of 2008, to shepherd an increasingly large flock of American sheep into the livestock freight carrier Pulitzer prize winning historian, Richard Hofstadter, called “anti-intellectualism.

Anti-Intellectualism in American Life—one of Hofstadter’s best, among many great books – was a pile of dynamite in 1963, when it was first published and blew a sizable hole in the house of America’s self-comforting delusions of intellectual superiority. In 2014, one can only hope that some of its initial blast still reverberates, as media commentators, university administrators, and even the President, have exposed themselves as adherents to what Hofstadter indicted as the “lowest common denominator criterion” of thought and “technician conformity” of lifestyle. Suspicion, and often outright hatred, of ideas is making American culture as riveting as oatmeal. By reading Hofstadter, one learns that the resurgence of a new anti-intellectualism isn’t new, at all. In fact, Hofstadter identified the particularly poisonous strain of the virus that now infects the American mind and kills the imagination.

Read the rest at the Daily Beast.