Graff, Gerald (Edward) 1937-
GRAFF, Gerald (Edward) 1937-
PERSONAL: Born June 28, 1937, in Chicago, IL; son of David R. and Mollie (Newman) Graff. Education: University of Chicago, A.B., 1959; Stanford University, Ph.D., 1963. Politics: "Left-radical." Religion: Jewish.
ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, University of Illinois at Chicago, 410 University Hall, 601 South Morgan St., Chicago, IL 60607-7104. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, assistant professor of English, 1963-66; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, assistant professor, 1966-70, associate professor, 1970-78, professor of English, 1978-91, chairman of department, 1977-82; University of Illinois at Chicago, George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English and Education, 1991—. Formerly director of Northwestern University Press.
MEMBER: Modern Language Association, Teachers for Democratic Culture (cofounder).
AWARDS, HONORS: American Book Award, Before Columbus Foundation, and Frederic W. Ness Award, Association of American Colleges and Universities, both 1993, both for Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education; fellow, Harvard University Center for Literary and Cultural Studies; awards from Illinois Arts Council, National Endowment for the Humanities, and John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.
Poetic Statement and Critical Dogma, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1970.
(Editor, with Barbara Heldt Monter) W. B. Scott, Chicago Letter and Other Parodies, Ardis (Ann Arbor, MI), 1978.
Literature against Itself: Literary Ideas in Modern Society, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1979, reprinted, I. R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1995.
(Editor, with Reginald Gibbons) Criticism in the University, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1985.
(Editor, with Barbara Heldt Monter) Scott, Parodies, Etc. and So Forth, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1985.
Professing Literature: An Institutional History, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1987.
(Editor, with Michael Warner) The Origins of Literary Studies in America: A Documentary Anthology, Routledge (London, England), 1988, Routledge (New York, NY), 1989.
Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, Norton (New York, NY), 1992.
(Coeditor) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Bedford/St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
(Coeditor) The Tempest: A Case Study in Critical Controversy, Bedford/St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Contributor to literary journals. Member of editorial boards, TriQuarterly, Salmagundi, Works and Days, and American Literary History.
SIDELIGHTS: Gerald Graff started his career as a literary critic in the early 1970s, and since then has gone on to write several influential books about theories ranging from modern poetics and postmodern discourses to curricular reform in education. His 1987 book Professing Literature: An Institutional History marked his progression from being a pure theorist to an educational activist, and he has continued his calls for reform in the influential 1992 publication Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education. In this book Graff recommends solutions to many cultural, political, and ideological debates going on within the world of the humanities in American universities. Underlying his commentaries is the strong belief that disagreement is only dangerous when it is masked, and that teaching conflicting ideas can actually develop students' ability to comprehend various points of view. "The impressive variety and consistent focus of Graff's work have earned him one of the broadest audiences in literary studies and education and have made him one of the most important voices in American criticism over the last quarter of the twentieth century," claimed Luchen Li in a Dictionary of Literary Biography essay.
Graff's first major work, Poetic Statement and Critical Dogma, was based on his doctoral dissertation. In it, he discusses poetic assertion and meaning as defined by theorists including Cleanth Brooks, Northrop Frye, and I. A. Richards. He points out that the theories espoused by these writers do not provide "an adequate account of the concrete facts of poetic structure and meaning," according to Li. "Graff argues that propositional assertion and expository argument are important semantic and structural principles of poetry. He suggests that the reader transcend the either/or distinction between propositional theories of poetry and those theories that view poetry as a dramatic reenactment of the process of thought."
In Literature against Itself: Literary Ideas in Modern Society, Graff argues "that recent critical thought has been undermining belief in the power of language to connect us with the world," Harry Levin summarized in the New York Times Book Review. In his analysis of late twentieth-century literary criticism, Graff "offers a body of commentary the shrewdness and cogency of which are constantly arresting," noted Virginia Quarterly Review contributor N. A. Scott. While Graff's thesis—that current critics have trivialized the literature they examine—is occasionally "encumbered" by ideology, Scott concluded that Literature against Itself "does, nevertheless, what it principally sets out to do, conduct a wonderfully trenchant and illuminating inquiry."
Similarly, with Professing Literature: An Institutional History, "Graff attempts to undermine the present organization of the English department by a historical treatment of the institutionalized teaching of literature," observed Stacey D'Erasmo in the Village Voice. The author, whom Times Literary Supplement contributor Chris Baldick called "among the most perceptive observers of modern literary criticism," suggests that "institutional pressures and inertias . . . have generated the complex pattern of hostilities now entrenched between professors of literature," thus fragmenting literary scholarship into fields such as women's literature and Afro-American writing. Professing Literature "is a solidly researched and convincingly argued work," the critic continued, and while Graff "ventures too infrequently outside the campus, his fascinating account of the literary academy in the United States from the 1840s to the present day avoids inconsequential gossip and keeps its most pressing arguments continuously before the reader's attention." Professing Literature contains some "lively academic and cultural arguments," Kermit Vanderbilt concluded in American Literature. Graff "has given us a stimulating critique of our institutional literary research, criticism, theory, and pedagogy."
Beyond the Culture Wars is the summation of Graff's influential "Teach the Conflicts" philosophy, and the points he raises in this book also formed the basis for many speaking appearances, seminars, and talk-show appearances. He outlines the ways in which specialized literary theories deprive students of a cohesive experience of literature read during college. He states that in an increasingly diverse society, consensus becomes less possible all the time, making it increasingly important to understanding how to disagree. In practical terms, Graff offers specific techniques for drawing students into the dispute. Change reviewer Rosemary Park called Beyond the Culture Wars "a practical therapy for the struggling student whose intellectual interests can be awakened, the author believes, by a more direct experience of the actual, fundamental, and rich divergences" that characterize an increasingly multicultural student body.
Li concluded that although Graff's focus has shifted from literary criticism to educational pedagogy over the course of his career, his "notion of teaching the conflicts has always been coherent in its focus on how such an educational strategy may build a better learning community by involving a critique of those academic discourses from the perspective of students."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Cain, William E., editor, Teaching the Conflicts: Gerald Graff, Curricular Reform, and the Culture Wars, Garland (New York, NY), 1994.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 246: Twentieth-Century American Cultural Theorists, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
American Literature, March, 1988.
Booklist, October 1, 1992, Mary Carroll, review of Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education, p. 219.
Change, November-December, 1992, Rosemary Park, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 66.
Choice, June, 1993, p. 1680; November, 2003, J. F. Biter, review of Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind, p. 594.
Christian Science Monitor, January 11, 1993, Laurel Shaper Walters, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 13.
Contemporary Literature, spring, 1994, Michael Berube, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 212.
Education Digest, December, 1992, Dudley Barlow, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 77.
Library Journal, November 1, 1992, Shirley L. Hopkinson, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 98.
Nation, February 8, 1993, Paul Levine, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 13.
National Forum, winter, 1994, James Andrew Clark, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 44.
New York Review of Books, February 11, 1993, Alan Ryan, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 13.
New York Times, December 21, 1992, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. B2.
New York Times Book Review, August 5, 1979; November 22, 1992, Nina Auerbach, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 11.
Publishers Weekly, September 7, 1992, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 82.
Reason, June, 1993, Cathy Young, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. 58.
Renaissance Quarterly, summer, 2000, review of The Tempest: A Case Study in Critical Controversy, p. 620.
Times Literary Supplement, November 6-12, 1987.
Village Voice, May 3, 1988.
Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1979.
Washington Post, April 4, 1993, Sara Mosle, review of Beyond the Culture Wars, p. ER23.*