I am going to a lecture about Melville later today. I looked up one of the lecturer's articles and came across this:
"One of the implications was that literature was no more or less worthy of study than any other semiotic system; fashion, gestures, sports could now serve as a "text" for the game of interpretation. But this view soon lost its playfulness, and turned into the dogma that literature, like any constructed system of meaning, must be assessed in relation to this or that "identity" (race, class, gender, etc.) to the exclusion of every other point of view. Here began in earnest the fragmentation of literary studies that is so evident today—and that has left a legacy of acrimony, and of intellectual and professional fatigue.
Deconstruction can also be seen as simply another phase in the continuing effort by literary studies to get respect from "hard" disciplines by deploying a specialized vocabulary of its own.
The field of English has become, to use a term given currency twenty-five years ago by the redoubtable Stanley Fish, a "self-consuming artifact." On the one hand, it has lost the capacity to put forward persuasive judgments; on the other hand, it is stuffed with dogma and dogmatists. It has paid overdue attention to minority writers, but, as Lynn Hunt notes in her essay in What's Happened to the Humanities?, it (along with the humanities in general) has failed to attract many minority students. It regards the idea of progress as a pernicious myth, but never have there been so many critics so sure that they represent so much progress over their predecessors. It distrusts science, but it yearns to be scientific—as attested by the notorious recent "Sokal hoax," in which a physicist submitted a deliberately fraudulent article full of pseudoscientific gibberish to a leading cultural-studies journal, which promptly published it. It denounces the mass media for pandering to the public with pitches and slogans, but it cannot get enough of mass culture. The louder it cries about the high political stakes in its own squabbles, the less connection it maintains to anything resembling real politics. And by failing to promote literature as a means by which students may become aware of their unexamined assumptions and glimpse worlds different from their own, the self-consciously radical English department has become a force for conservatism.
"In what is perhaps the largest irony of all, the teaching of English has been penetrated, even saturated, by the market mentality it decries. The theory factory (yesterday's theory is deficient, today's is new and improved) has become expert in planned obsolescence. And though English departments are losing the competition for students, they have not resisted the consumerism of the contemporary university, where student-satisfaction surveys drive grade inflation (it is the rare student whose satisfaction is immune to a low grade), and the high enrollments on which departments depend for lobbying power with the administration can sometimes be propped up by turning education into entertainment."