How true this passage is. Half a centurynago, when I was an undergraduate, Inperceived that the Department of Englishnat Michigan State was carrying onnalmost the whole mission of a liberalneducation, abandoned by other disciplines.nIf English departments shouldnbe conquered by an inhumane “scholarly”nspecialization, or surrender to fantasticnideologies, I conjectured evennthen that we would be compelled todancenin what the American Humanistsnhad called “a devil’s sabbath of whiriingnmachinery.”nJust that has come to pass, on thengreat majority of campuses: arid specializationnin literature, with consequentndecay of good teaching; and on thenother hand, often simultaneously, thenbellicose ascendancy of deconstructionismn— the maddest school of literaryncriticism ever conceived — feminism,nrevolutionary ideologies, and other antiliterarynfads and foibles. This revoltnagainst humane letters seems to havenbeen carried farthest at Duke Universityn(not mentioned by Booth), where professorialnzealots for deconstructionismnare recruited by salaries in excess ofn$100,000, and the oldest Americannliterary journal, The South AtlanticnQuarterly, has been captured by theninnovators and converted into a journalnof “gender and race.”nProfessor Booth, in this complexnand sometimes subtle book, rejects thencharge that the victory of the pseudoteachersnof English is not complete.n(For that matter, even at Duke therensurvive Professor Grover Smith, thenEliot scholar, and some colleagues whonobdurately resist the champions of lit­nLIBERAL ARTSnA MORAL EDUCATIONnerary nihilism.) In some matters anninnovator in criticism himself. Boothndoes not mean to establish a hegemonynof traditionalists; but he sets his facenagainst the fantastics of “English” whonhave done their best to substitute theirnpersonal prejudices, whims, and resentmentsnfor the teaching of rhetoric.nHe is grieved by the evaporation ofnreasonable discourse in the academy;nby the barriers to intelligent communicationnthat result from the degradationnof rhetoric. Here he is on JacquesnDerrida, so much admired by the votariesnof the nihilistic school. First henquotes some sentences from the openingnof one of Derrida’s chapters:nWhat about the voice withinnthe logic of the supplement?nWithin that which shouldnperhaps be called the “graphic”nof the supplement?nWithin the chain of supplements,nit was difficult to havenseparate writing from onanism.nThose two supplements have inncommon at least the fact thatnthey are dangerous. Theyntransgress a prohibition and arenexperienced within culpability.nBut, by the economy ofndifferance deliberately spellednwith an “a,” as a special term,nthey confirm the interdict theyntransgress, get around a danger,nand reserve an expenditure.nThen Booth comments, “Now I havenworked for about a decade to becomencomfortable with the recondite languagenin which that passage is written,nand I think I sort of understand it.nWhen apt and good words began to be neglected . . . thennalso began ill deeds to spring, strange manners to oppressngood orders, new and fond opinions to strive with old andntrue doctrine, first in philosophy and after in religion, rightnjudgment of all things to be perverted, and so virtue withnlearning is contemned and study left ofF.n— Roger Ascham, The ScholemasternAges are no more infallible than individuals.n— ]ohn Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”nnnUnlike some of my more traditionalncolleagues, I am utterly convinced thatnit is not nonsense, though it is opaquensomewhat — more so than in the originalnFrench. Still, if I were to studyncarefully the chapter that follows it andnthen write a summary, the chances arenabout ninety-nine to one that Derridanwould not say of it, ‘Bravo, you havenunderstood.'”nAye, rhetorical art no longer joinsntogether even professors of English;nand a host of charlatans or of sournhaters, of all received wisdom, withnsuch as de Man and Derrida for theirnprophets, have dashed down the tenurentrack and stormed the citadel of humanenletters.nDr. Booth is seriously disturbed bynall this. But his book will be read onlynby teachers of English: it would benincomprehensible to the serious readingnpublic, and even to most universitynpeople. Its allusions, digressions, andnsardonic passages will be understoodnwithin the Gothic walls of the Universitynof Chicago, but perhaps only there.nThe very frame of the book makes thenproduction eccentric: ephemeral mordantnlectures, in part repetitious, set innsmall type.nThis is a pity, for there occur innBooth’s Occasions very keen perceptions;nand Professor Booth is a scholarnwho earnestly believes that literaturenhas an ethical end, that true rhetoricndeserves vigorous defense, and that thenvery survival of our civilization dependsnupon the imagination, reason,nand rhetoric that used to be impartednby competent teachers (as distinguishednfrom abstract specialists). Yet,nDr. Booth’s own rhetoric is impairednby the hard necessity of addressingnundereducated and often hostile audiencesnof barbarous Ph.D.’s, who willntolerate cleverness in a speaker but notnwords of wisdom. One finishes thenbook with an impression of the author’sningenuity, rather than of his sagacity.nBut one forgives this, thinking of thenmentality of America’s advanced intelligentsia,nwhom Booth is endeavoringnto persuade. There come to mind twonlines from Kipling:nEven in that certain hour before -nthe fall.nUnless men please they are notnheard at all.nnSEPTEMBER 1989/25n