Edwin M. Yoder Jr. {op-ed, Nov. 24} missed Prof. Alvin Kernan's point about the death of literature {Outlook, Nov. 18}. In fact, his reasoning reinforced Kernan's opinions in two ways: by referring to positive student feedback in but one lonely night course and by citing only one recent American novel on a level with those of Henry James or William Faulkner. If literature is as vital as Yoder suggested, why aren't there more inspired students and literary masterpieces? Yoder also wrote, "not every age discovers apt form and language for telling its stories in permanent or arresting form." Since when?

I agree with Yoder about the stifling nature of the "tyranny of criticism" and the "eccentric verbiage" that swells and obfuscates an abundance of literary treatises. (Such academese is worse than legalese, because literature students should know better.) And, yes, "human beings demand the imaginative re-creation of life," but Kernan rightly indicated that they are much less demanding today.

While enlightened readers may flock to literature classes, carloads of Americans are checking out more channels and videos than great books, and works of genius are fewer and farther between. When they do appear, those who still read go forward with enthusiasm, or they go to class to learn the difference, when it exists, between literature and telling stories.

-- Elizabeth D. Earls

Alvin Kernan bewailed scholars "concentrating on issues of gender, class and race" and forsaking "literature itself -- art for art's sake." The point of the "radical" critique, however, is that art and literature are always for someone's sake and never for art's sake.

The works dominating the "literary" canon reflect the interests of a particular gender (male), class (wealthy) and race (white). The exclusive teaching of such works perpetuates the hegemony of this class. These interests are evident in the words that creep from the crusty quill we must presume the technophobic Kernan to be using when he writes that Melville's "Moby Dick" is primarily "an epic of American mercantilism."

Kernan's failure to understand the valorized erotic aspects of "Moby Dick" leads one to imagine that he has not read the novel in several decades (at least not an unabridged edition), and his failure to understand that American mercantilism is the most powerful carrier of American cultural imperialism is alarming given his position in academia. Indeed, his opposition of Simone de Beauvoir's "Second Sex" to "classic" works of literature borders on academic malfeasance. The uncharitable reader might suspect he not only should know better, but does, and that he is indulging in calculated academagoguery designed to promote his forthcoming book.

Kernan's piece revealed his prejudice that "women, non-whites, homosexuals and the poor" are not only "society's marginal victims," but are, in fact, marginal members of society. The question of how these groups have been and continue to be marginalized by the traditions he defends has become central to cultural and literary studies today.

In the real world, such "marginal victims" constitute a large majority of the human beings on this planet. The refreshing, dramatic change our hero scorns has been toward reflecting this fact in our university English programs. Contrary to Kernan's closing assertion, "positive" and emancipatory ways of speaking of literature have been found. Their exchange flourishes, and "the great march of words down the centuries" continues despite the ominous cracking of hoary old trunks like Kernan threatening to tumble into their path.

-- Carl Settlemyer III