Joined in battle 1

May 8, 2008

Derek Attridge is absolutely right when he argues that criticism in literary degrees should be open to what he calls a certain "magic": that intake of breath at the unexpected, the requirement that we stretch our imagination to accommodate worlds and thoughts previously undreamt of in our philosophies ("We've lost those magic moments", 1 May).

He is even more right to describe the struggle to maintain this as a "battle" and one that is "worth fighting". That battle is to be fought against those who are systematically damaging the possibilities of such freedom of imagination at large - not just in English literature but in all aspects of tertiary education.

The predominant audit culture - governed largely by the Quality Assurance Agency and its tawdry consumerist vacuities parading as a pious protector of quality and customer - has now reached the point where its bureaucratic newspeak and intellectual banality threaten the fundamental freedoms that a university might be thought to protect: the freedom to think differently and in unpredictable ways. We used to call that "research"; and the best teaching was and remains research-led, in the sense that, when we start out, we do not know where we'll end up. That is as true for world-leading engineering as it is for Shakespeare.

In place of this we are required to ensure that we have endless audit processes that have become self-serving, proceeding in ignorance of what really happens in education. We need an opening to the future, not a bland checklist of alleged outcomes in which no one has any imaginative intellectual investment. As Attridge hints, we teach well; if we do so, it is despite the prevailing ideology, not thanks to it.

Thomas Docherty, Professor of English and of comparative literature, University of Warwick.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments