I am a big fan of certain reactionary writers. Of pedophiles, racists, misogynists and a buncha sorry ass mandarins. At the same time, I am aware that criticism of these people for being pedophile, racist, misogynist and otherwise showing a sorry ass vibe is true, and that those who consider such criticism part of “cancel culture” have a very odd view of reading and what it entails.
Where does that view come from?
The cancel culture debate is so flatheaded and without fizz that it is stale pop all the way down. The interesting thing about it is that it connects to the current crisis in academia. Namely, in the humanities and social sciences.
Read the autobiographies of the poobahs of the 19th century – and in particular, women – and you will find that it was not done in a classroom. It was done in Papa’s library, or with books from a lending library; it was done through buying newspapers, it was done in cigar factories by readers, it was done on the hoof. As far as recent literature is concerned, there was no teaching of it in universities. It was only in 1919 that Oxford deigned to produce a syllabus that allowed for the study of 19th century literature. Compare that to universities today: Oxford now offers a contemporary literature course. Berkeley offers, in its 125E course, the following texts: Diaz, Junot: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; Egan, Jennifer: A Visit from the Goon Squad; Harding, Paul: Tinkers; Johnson, Adam: The Orphan Master's Son; McCarthy, Cormac: The Road; Strout, Elizabeth: Olive Kittredge; Tartt, Donna: The Goldfinch