Paul Salzman responds to Simon During

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I agree with a good deal of John Frow’s reply to Simon During, but I think that they both share an odd tendency to blur the distinction between methodology and object of study. Despite the fact that Frow makes this distinction at several points, he also writes: ‘Cultural studies supposes a pedagogy in which students are at least as fully in control of much of the subject matter as are the teachers.’ This seems to me to fall into the same trap as During: to assume that the teaching of cultural studies is, at some fundamental level, the teaching of popular culture itself, rather than the teaching of a certain methodology.

Given the high theory version of cultural studies embodied in something like During’s own pedagogical Cultural Studies Reader, it seems obvious to me that the regime of liberating instruction he envisages is highly unlikely to be realised, any more than it could have been under an older, canon-centred notion of literature. The teaching of this complex theory may ultimately be political in the way During announces, but it is very far from being the equivalent of the direct experience of rock culture and soap opera which puts students in control. There are versions of cultural studies which produce the dada-like anti-academicism During admires, but I don’t think they really do it that way at Melbourne University.

The new literary studies, like the new cultural studies, engages with much more than the canon. Like Frow, I see both endeavours as complementary, particularly if we bear in mind the fact that the written text of the past bears the popular as well as the highbrow, bears, indeed, at some fundamental level, the past itself. Just as During requires a history in order to make his argument, the literary component (ie. the textual) in the new English department allows us to consider something other than the immediate present. I don’t think many of us have thought of texts as being ‘self-contained’ for a long time. From that perspective, like Frow, I see the methodologies of cultural studies as intertwining quite successfully with the culture of a truly diverse English department.

Paul Salzman, School of English, La Trobe University

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