Thursday, June 2, 2011

The PhD and the Sparkly Vampire Books

Apparently, there's some discussion going on about whether or not professors of literature (of which I am one) should read the Twilight books.

And really, there's the potential for so much wtfery in even thinking about why that's an issue or how to address that, I'm not sure where to begin. But (as you can tell from the fact that I am here, writing this blog post), I'll try.

I am a literature professor. Should I read Twilight? Well, first, let's realize that this isn't actually about the Twilight books as such. It's about the idea of someone who is supposed to be an intellectual example standing up in front of a classroom and calling something - about which he admits he has no personal knowledge - crap. Or, excuse me, "low forms of literature." Let me here and now promulgate the radical idea that if you're going to call something crap, you ought to have some basis for doing so other than "lots of other people say it is." I mean, maybe it was just in my program, but I thought part of earning a PhD was learning how to form your own scholarly opinions.

It is my considered intellectual opinion that low forms of literature are crap. Do I need to read Twilight? Well, again. Here's the thing. If you haven't read it, how do you know it is a low form of literature? Because it is about vampires? But see: Dracula. Because it has werewolves? But see: Bisclaveret. Because it is popular? But see: the sales figures of any number of the classics of the literary canon. Because it was written by a woman? But see: A list of names I am not even going to begin because I would never be able to quit typing.

But I don't wanna. Fine. Then don't. Because for most classes that are currently taught in the lit departments at universities, there's no reason why Twilight ought to be added to your reading in the field. I work on modern speculative fiction, I teach course in the area, and so yes, I've read them. But if I were only teaching as a medievalist, or a Victorianist, or a specialist in early American poetry, there would be no reason. Unless, of course, every time I needed a shorthand for "fiction that is crap," I referenced Twilight.

Intellectual snobbery is perfidious and foul, and has no place in the classroom. Our job when we stand there is to open minds, not close our own.


  1. Just sharing a link:

    Also, part of the problem is some scholars don't like the idea of having to read Twilight to be able to say that it's crap because... well, because then they would have to actually read all those great books they haven't actually read if they want to call them "classics", or "masterpieces".

  2. That is indeed the link that started this.

    And yes - the examination of our field ought to run both ways. I also think that one of the most important things to remember is that liking a book doesn't necessarily mean it is a good book, and disliking a book doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad one. Quality and personal preference are two separate things.

  3. I couldn't agree more (and I have no love for Twilight). I respect the right of the ignorant to opine about anything they please, but literature professors have an obligation to *not* be uninformed when professing an opinion on literature in the classroom. Or at least, to state clearly when they are speaking in ignorance. The professors whom I respected the most always did this as well as point out when their views differed from scholarly consensus.

    If I wanted to hear a lecture from someone with uninformed biases about a book they've probably not even read I'd go to church. (Too harsh?)

    Regardless, surely there must be a professor out there somewhere that specializes in studying "literature universally considered crap." There's got to be a doctoral thesis in there somewhere...

  4. HAHA! *stops laughing* There probably IS a thesis on that topic.

  5. I read them, too, not with a tremendous amount of enjoyment, but because I wanted to understand why they appealed to so many people. Since I'm a critic, I think of that as part of my job, and I certainly wouldn't run down a book I hadn't read in any of my pieces, so I don't see why professors should be able to do it in classrooms.

    But besides that, when millions of people love something, it's usually because there's *something* there, and I could see why so many people like Twilight. I agree that they are a "low" form of literature by almost any scale of literary quality, but they do succeed in connecting with a lot of readers, and that is interesting in and of itself. So beyond reading books like this in order to feel free to discuss them as you please, you can also learn something from them.

  6. Laura: The second part of your comment is something I didn't begin thinking about until I started writing, but I absolutely agree.

  7. I read all the Twilight books, even though I was constantly infuriated by them, because I kept wondering what happened next. I hated the main characters, found the writing banal and couldn't care less what happened in the plot. So why the heck couldn't I put them down?

    I honestly think that if you want to bag something out properly, you need to have read it first. ^_^

  8. Agreed. I am no fan of the series but intellectual snobbery is rampant in the world of literature. It especially pains me to see it emanate from writers who, it would seem, forget that appreciation for forms of art is subjective and in another day and time, their modern masterpieces wouldn't be more than kindling for the editor's stove.