In the age of woke academia, all academic activity can be reduced to “X is racist”, “Y is sexist”, and “Z is somethingist”.
And then say “whiteness” a lot as if it were a magical formula that would lift you into the realm of ideas. And so here’s, “Recognizing the Enduring Whiteness of Jane Austen”.
It’s all the stuff you expect. Combined with this bit of unintentional comedy.
Informed by critic Edward Said’s reading of Austen’s novel in his book, Culture and Imperialism, I write one of my first seminar papers as a doctoral student in English Language and Literature on how Lady Bertram’s pug symbolizes a kind of indolence and excess the Bertram family can have due to Sir Tomas Bertram’s slave estates in Antigua. These are the only comments on the paper justifying why I receive a B letter grade: “The connection between Lady Bertram’s pug, the luxury of their home, and colonialism in your reading of Mansfield Park, isn’t a very strong one.”
Bad student gets bad grade for ridiculous nonsense. Because of whiteness.
But then we go on to Grendel as a symbol of people of color.
Literary critics of color have long taken to task the whiteness of literary study, examining how we have held certain canonical texts and authors on untouchable pedestals. In her essay, “The Question of Race in Beowulf,” Dorothy Kim outlines how J.R.R. Tolkien and Toni Morrison took two very different analytic approaches to the study of Beowulf. For Tolkien, Beowulf becomes a, “non-politicized, close reading of monsters, asking critics to read it as a poem, a work of linguistic art,” yet also somehow serves as a source of racial pride for the British. While Morrison sees how Grendel and his mother are figures of the marginalized, of the plights of people of color in a white supremacist world.
Forget the sheer stupidity of the premise.
Tolkien was an academic who was capable of reading and understanding the original. His translation of Beowulf is amazing. And he discussed what his view of Beowulf was in The Monsters and the Critics And that’s a good deal more complicated than this stupidly reductive remark.
There’s no reason to think that Toni Morrison was capable of reading the original. Or had any interest in doing so.
Comparing their views as if they had equal weight, let alone that Morrison had anything to offer beyond politically correct cliches, is as absurd as pretending that an NBA flat earther can argue with Einstein about physics (or vice versa about hoops).
Any academic perspective that pretends that an informed view and an uninformed view have equal weight is self-evidently absurd. But that’s what political correctness, wokeness and social justice demand.
And once we dismiss Beowulf as racist, another white story about defeating monsters who represent people of color, then it no longer needs to be read or understood. That’s the real point. It’s not about reading, but unreading. Replacing the work with simplistic stereotypes that explain why it doesn’t need to be read or known. All that needs to be known is that it’s full of whiteness and racism.