"English"-- not the language, but the activity that takes place in English departments at American universities--has long ceased to be anything resembling a single discipline, if in fact it ever was. It is a collection of disparate activities with multiple objects of inquiry, vaguely articulated methodologies, and diverse notions of proof.
With new essays by Gerald Graff, Paul Lauter, Louie Crew, George Garrett, Thomas Dabbs, Walter L. Reed, Phyllis Frus, Stanley Corkin, Tilly Warnock, and Stanley Fish, this volume does not attempt to define the discipline. Instead, as Graff observes in the opening chapter, it enacts it, sometimes with a passion verging on violence, each essayist defending interests that are threatened by the others. It is English as theater. The essays can be read in any order; the arguments among them will out. The conflicts rage on even after the curtain falls. But the issues are clarified: What's at stake, not just for English but for society at large, is the tenuous boundary between conversation and chaos.