"The Word On the Street invites humanities scholars to move beyond the classroom and the monograph to share the pleasures of art in ways that engage the intelligence of the common reader, cultivating the critical imagination so vital to American cultural democracy. Lively and thought-provoking, Teres lays out contemporary debates and wades into them with gusto."
---Nancy Cantor, Syracuse University
"At a moment when questions about the literary, 'bookishness,' and the future of print are being urgently raised, with incessant national attention to the perceived crises of literacy and reading, Teres' thoughtful, broadly democratic, but also tough-minded examination of both 'common readers' and academic readers makes a real contribution to the debate."
---Julie Ellison, University of Michigan
Despite significant changes since the mid-twentieth century in American critical culture---the culture emanating from the serious review of books, ideas, and the arts---it attracts only a small and declining minority of Americans. However productive this culture has been, American society has not approached the realization of Emerson's or Dewey's vision of a highly participatory American cultural democracy. Such a culture requires critics who are read by the average citizen, but the migration of critics and intellectuals from the public to the academy has resulted in fewer efforts to engage with ordinary citizens. The Word on the Street investigates this disjunction between the study of literature in the academy and the interests of the common reader and society at large, arguing the vital importance of publicly engaged scholarship in the humanities. Teres chronicles how the once central function of the humanities professorate---to teach students to appreciate and be inspired by literature---has increasingly been lost to literary and cultural studies in the last thirty years.
The Word on the Street argues for a return to an earlier model of the public intellectual and a literary and cultural criticism that is accessible to ordinary citizens. Along the way, Teres offers an illuminating account of the current problem and potential solutions, with the goal of prompting a future vision of publicly engaged scholarship that resonates with the common reader and promotes an informed citizenry.
Harvey Teres is Associate Professor of English at Syracuse University.
Cover image: Ruth Fremson/The New York Times/Redux
The New Public Scholarship