Sunday, June 11, 2017

The academy has much to answer for

Idle speculation on a Sunday afternoon with no particular origin for the thought or purpose. It seems to me that I do not see Goethe quoted or alluded to as much as I did when I was young. I have to take into account that at that time I was living in Europe so it would be natural that Goethe might have been referenced there more often than Americans might. Still, I feel pretty confident that the citation incidence rate is indeed down.

How to test this conjectured recollection?

I decided to check Ngram Viewer (from Google and covering references in books up to 2008) and Google Trends (covering inclusion of terms in google searches from 2004 to the present.) I have restricted both to American texts. I tested literary giants from very roughly the same period from four countries: Shakespeare from Britain, Cervantes from Spain, Goethe from Germany and Voltaire from France.

They confirm what had been my impression.

Click to enlarge.

Mentions of Shakespeare unsurprisingly dominate the chart but are down 35% from 1950. Shakespeare's heyday was in 1962.

Voltaire is down by half since his peak in 1966. Cervantes has been holding his own over the entire period albeit at the lowest rate of mentions all along.

Goethe is down more than 50%. His height of popularity (in book mentions) was in 1966.

Yes, Goethe is mentioned less often than I recall from my youth but so are all literary titans. It appears there was a collapse in classic education between 1965 and 1980, corresponding with both an expansion of universities as well as the spread of postmodern critical theory which has a strong aversion to dead white males and western intellectual tradition more broadly.

I also looked at Google Trend. I have omitted the inclusion of Shakespeare as he so dominates the results as to make all the others miniscule.

Click to enlarge.

Cervantes, Goethe, and Voltaire are down by double digits from 2004 till now but Goethe is the one who has experienced the greatest decline.

My speculation is correct, mentions of Goethe are down but as are Cervantes, Shakespeare and Voltaire also. But Goethe is down by the most.

The mid-1960s were the height of awareness of our cultural heritage and things have mostly stabilized at 40-50% of where they were since then. The academy has much to answer for in terms of a fall off in standards.

No comments:

Post a Comment