In Deserving Appreciation

November 16, 2007

There has long been something of a debate here at Yesterday’s Salad over the proper place of literary criticism in both the academy-at-large and Yesterday’s Salad-in-small. I’ve even been accused of having a “roulette wheel of literary theory terms” which I use when the mood strikes me, or when I run out of other things to write about. While there is too much truth in that statement for comfort, it does not explain my attraction to theory. Harold Bloom once wrote that he found equally little value in both the traditional criticism of M.H. Abrams and the deconstruction of Jacques Derrida [sic/Breaking the Vessels]. As someone deeply committed to both the study of post-Colonial Feminist thought, and traditional literary readings, I hold the exact opposite view (which Bloom probably holds as well), and find great value in “each” type of reading, both as literature, and as something to further my appreciation of other texts. So it is with great pleasure that I now offer a few words of praise and congratulations to Professor Ruth Wisse on her receipt of a National Humanities Medal.


The award reads, “The 2007 National Humanities Medal to Ruth R. Wisse for her scholarship and teaching that have illuminated Jewish literary traditions. Her insightful writings have enriched our understanding of Yiddish literature and Jewish culture in the modern world.” (source)

While I agree with all those things, I would like to add a few more. First, Professor Wisse is one of the exceptional specialists whose work transcends her specialty. Her criticism has enriched our knowledge of literature in general, not only of Jewish literature. The Modern Jewish Canon, though focused on Jewish texts, makes important contributions to the study of theme and the effects of geographical displacement.

I’d also like to draw attention to her work for Commentary where she has shown herself to be a skilled essayist and commentator on all aspects of life. In honour of her award, Commentary has posted two of her articles (as well as the work of other metal recipients) on their website. None of this, however, compares to her work as a blogger (!). Her post on Drew Faust’s ascension to the Harvard Presidency is particularly good.

But above all else are her skills as a reader, which are among the greatest of her, or any, generation.