Anyone who pays attention to the vagaries of academic publishing these days knows that that once-staid profession has suffered the same degradation as the academy itself. It was not so long ago that academic publishers scorned pop culture and strove to serve the scholarly and educational communities. Their primary mandate was to assist in the transmission of knowledge. Today, many academic publishers are little more than conduits for the various gender-race-class attacks on traditional moral and intellectual values that parade under the name of “the humanities.” In one sense, there is nothing new or surprising about this: academic publishers are merely reflecting the prevailing ethos of the academy, as they always have.
And yet every now and again we come across something that brings us up short, reminding us that things are actually far worse than we had imagined. The Spring 1994 catalogue from the venerable publishing house of Routledge is a case in point. Buried in its pages are a handful of serious scholarly books. Indeed, a recent study of Tacitus from Routledge is the subject of a favorable review in this issue of The New Criterion. But the general tenor of the new Routledge catalogue—the sorts of books that are given prominence—is something else again. Terms like “postmodernism,” “cultural studies,” and “multiculturalism” often seem like vague abstractions: Routledge’s offerings for the spring make them all too concrete.
The title chosen to lead off the catalogue is a collection of essays called My American History: Lesbian and Gay Life During the Reagan/Bush Years. Including something called the “Lesbian Avengers Handbook,” a “practical guide for others interested in political direct action,” My American History documents activists “as they struggled, under impossible odds and an ever-growing opposition, to articulate a movement for freedom and dignity during the Reign of Reganism.” Other featured titles include Victimized Daughters: Incest and the Development of the Female Self (“groundbreaking”), two books on bestiality (one first published in Dutch, we are told), and Reclaiming Sodom, which, among other things, “argues the political use and usefulness of both Sodom and sodomy.” Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest seems almost tame by comparison, even if it “chronicles the dangerous liaisons between gender, race and class that shaped British imperialism and its bloody dismantling.” Perhaps our favorite title was Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us. This really is something special. It’s not every day that you come across a book written by “a woman who has been through some changes —a former heterosexual male, a one-time Scientologist and IBM salesperson, now a lesbian woman writer and actress who makes regular rounds on the TV (so to speak) talk shows.” It seems unfair to bring IBM into it.
If Routledge were some sort of bizarre exception among major academic publishers— the literary equivalent of a freakish genetic accident—it would hardly be worth noticing, though its authors, poor things, would certainly deserve our pity. The problem is that Routledge does not occupy the fringe but the center of academic publishing. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the fringe has become the center. Open the catalogue of virtually any important university press today: transsexuals who were once Scientologists and IBM salesmen are still rare, it is true, but every other category of left-wing animus is well represented. Academic publishers were once among the guardians of civilization. Now they have joined the ranks of those determined to destroy it.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 12 Number 7, on page 3
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