Resisting the Postmodern Ascendancy: An Interview with Ernest Suarez

Brian Russell Graham :

The Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW) is an academic association which meets at its annual conference (until now in the United States) to discuss literary matters. It is attended by a broad range of literary types: university professors, novelists, and poets, not to mention school teachers. In addition to the excellent quality of the academic endeavors conducted at its conferences, what makes the association noteworthy is that it has an appealing contrarian quality. It was set up to counter what its founders saw as a negative trend in the study of literature, which emerged over the course of the 1970s and ‘80s. The Association describes its own history as follows:

In 1994, a group of professors of literature, critics, and imaginative writers, tired of lamenting the overly politicized debate about literary study in the academy, joined together to create a different kind of organization, one aimed at combating this intellectual partisanship. The founders represented many unique perspectives and literatures from ancient to modern, but shared a common exasperation with the narrow theoretical and sociological discourse that seemed to have gained ascendancy in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom in the eighties and nineties. We wanted a renewed and enlarged field of study, more freedom of thought and expression, and more lively exchange between scholars and literary artists.

We represented no political agenda. Our members ranged across a broad ideological (or non-ideological) spectrum. What held us together was the desire to create a forum where lovers of the word could carry on spirited literary debate and examine the arts of writing.

I attended the association’s conference this year and interviewed its president, Professor Ernest Suarez of the Catholic University of America (Washington D.C.). Approaching the interview, I had a small number of points of reference in mind which I thought explained in part of the emergence of the ALSCW. Each point entails the putative weakening of political diversity in English departments and an emerging hegemony of the Left in that domain.