5390: Article Commentary 9: An Anvil for English

Kemp, Fred. (2005). The Aesthetic Anvil: The Foundations of Resistance to Technology and Innovation in English Departments. Market Matters: Applied Rhetoric Studies and Free Market Competition. Ed. Joyce Locke Carter. Hampton, 2005.

“The Aesthetic Anvil” is a chapter article, rather than a journal article; I’ve already commented some on how the genre differs in terms of wave-catching and style in my Petraglia commentary, and thus won’t revisit those in the abstract here.

Immediately, Kemp identifies his broad audience–folks in, connected to, or at least interested in university English departments. This fits the audience of the book at large, academics in Rhetoric and Technical Communication, both groups that would ostensibly be seated smack in the middle of an English department at some point in their career.

The article is written in a mixed formal style. For example, rather than pointedly avoiding the first person point of view (a few “this chapter”s and a very few “I”s), Kemp simply focuses his energies on discussing his subject: Arnold, and historical attitudes of the 19th century, and attitudes toward technology and change in general. Language throughout the article is complex, (“bifurcation”, “quasi-deification of an aesthetic elite”, “suicidal determinism in a world of flux”) embracing latinate but not preponderatingly so. In general, Kemp uses running sentences with straightforward syntactic structures that continually push the reader through the chapter. (I suppose that could just be a definition of the running sentence, no?)

The writer’s claim is big: Kemp identifies the foundation of an entire system of attitudes, and makes a case for how those attitudes are ultimately harmful. Quite a few of the members of my own department would red-facedly huff and harumph past my office for a week were I to put a copy of the article in their mailboxes. (Oh, what fun!) This claim is bolstered by a thorough exploration of Matthew Arnold’s claims about literature and humanity and a criticism of the fixed ontology based upon it. (Hmm…) This is done using complexity theory and appeals to Peter Drucker’s expertise.

The obvious stengths and weaknesses of the first paragraph is its quick overview of the entire idea of the chapter. Without getting bogged down into specifics of how it would get there, I knew exactly where this article would end up. A particular strength of the last paragraph was stylistic–its use of anaphora in the last few sentences (“An entrepreneurial spirit… An entrepreneurial spirit… A non-entrepreneurial English department”) really nails home the central value Kemp seems to want to get across: an adaptive, dynamic, recursive relationship is better than a faded, backwards-looking institutional ideology.

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