I must confess, as an ex-student of literature, that I haven’t spent as many hours at the library pouring over research papers and critical analyses as I probably should have.
Honestly, a lot of times I hardly understood what the paper was driving at. Weird though it may sound, I almost felt as if some of the authors didn’t really want me to know what exactly it was that they were talking about.
Lost in Jargon
One evening, after having spent a copious amount of time trying to understand Cixous’ metaphors, my roommate and I proceeded to make a rap parody of it that not only made the whole thing extremely easy to understand but also very catchy and potentially repulsive to academicians. I was thus often left with mixed feelings regarding my solemnity for subjects that I had so willingly chosen to study and a certain degree of anxiety pertaining to my chance of survival in a discipline that consistently harped on academic language and appreciated compulsive quoting.
In fact, I started thinking about how I, and several friends of mine, have at some point in our university life felt as though we were lost, and not quite the ‘intellectuals’ that we hoped to be. The feeling is not uncommon, as it turns out. Much has been written about imposter syndrome among students pursuing higher education, but unfortunately, not a lot has been discussed how this could be related to subtle academic elitism and gatekeeping, maybe not only restricted to a college environment.
Initiation into the High-Culture of Academia
I spiralled down my childhood memory lane and remembered being socialised into appreciating so-called “good literature” at the tender age of seven. My mother (a graduate with honours in English literature and a respected teacher) had told me on the first day of my third grade, to only borrow books written by English authors such as Enid Blyton from my school library as that is what she presumed was the best way to inculcate in me a habit of reading ‘good’ books.
Although I do not regret the prolonged Blyton fanatic phase in my life that then followed, I do feel as though my worldview got somehow restricted, owing to the exclusive exposure to white British authors. At every step of the way in my academic life, I noticed distinctions being made between what can be classified as good and bad in terms of literature and this classification was often based on the flair of language, rather than content.
Breaking the Mould
When I started reading counter-discourses in literature, I realised that even though the world today has progressed to a post-modern era that stresses on the reader’s subjectivity and the diverse subaltern, our schools have not completely gotten over their Eurocentric phase.
Ironically, even as we were taught subjects such as literary theories and cultural studies in college, that contained elaborate essays on inclusivity and the need to break disciplinary rigidity, we found ourselves being a part of the same system of elitism in practice, that we critiqued in theory. Similarly, a culture of solely engaging in a certain medium of knowledge imparting and acquisition, is what might actually be leading to a system of subtle elitism that looks down upon any form of discourse that goes beyond pre-existing boundaries.
For instance, I don’t see why literary philosophy cannot be a part of pop culture or why a graphic novel on postmodern feminism cannot be accepted as a legible reference by academia. If one feels that is outrageous, they might be inadvertently enabling a gatekeeping culture that exists to make knowledge systematically inaccessible. Does the constant stress on a so-called pre-established academic language even while discussing alternate culture, not refute its very agenda? Further, when we talk about bringing about a certain change in the society in our classrooms and then go on to reference convoluted essays that the entire mass of people beyond academia would not comprehend, are we not defeating our own purpose?
What purpose would an elaborate critique of the society serve, if incomprehensible by the society itself?
About the author: Dyuti Dutta is a post graduate student of clinical psychology at Manipal Academy of Higher Education along with being a theatre and art enthusiast.