Much of what Jonathan Yardley {"Paradise Tossed," Style, Jan. 11} says about English departments has the ring of truth. With the influx of baby-boomer instructors, literary analysis has taken on the garb but not necessarily the substance of populism. Aesthetics suffers in any age that breeds more critics than creative writers.

However, there is reason to be optimistic about the future in American literary studies. Truly gifted teachers of literature are born into almost every generation. With time -- and the help of a more creative academic environment -- their voices will be heard.

While Mr. Yardley is right in his comments on what passes for literature nowadays, we must remember that the choice of authors and works in our English departments has always been subject to politics. Literary canons change more slowly than one might think. Not too long ago, American literature was customarily taught as a mere offshoot of British literature. The marked ways in which our American literature differs from that of Britain are still being discovered. We are also slowly becoming cognizant of the rich diversity of writers who have such non-WASPish names as Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Pietro Di Donati and Steve Tesich.

We don't have to stoop to second-raters in order to broaden the scope of literary studies in our universities.


Newark, Del.

The writer is a professor of linguistics at the University of Delaware.