Prof. Copeland is Out of Touch

To the Editor:

It’s upsetting to me that Roger Copeland, an out-of-touch critic who seems to despise most “post-modern” ideas, would propose to teach such courses as “Art on Trial” (a course inspired by the NEA culture wars of the Reagan Era) and “Happenings, Non-Literary Theater, and Performance Art.” Copeland’s extremely offensive and poisonous letter in last week’s Review is an attack on first-year Shahana Siddiqui and an attack on what Copeland calls “identity politics.”
Typically, Copeland begins his letter by degrading the forum in which he is about to speak: “Only the most vigilant guardian of common sense could possibly find time to respond to all the nonsense that’s published, week after week, in the Oberlin Review’s ‘Letters to the Editor’ section....” He then proceeds to insult Siddiqui because she is concerned about certain political and personal issues – issues which Copeland implies are “ridiculous,” “destructive,” “pervasive” and beyond “any reasonably intelligent young person.” Finally, Copeland remembers the way things used to be: “Once upon a time, before the advent of identity politics...” and mourns the loss of education as he defines it, which includes “transcend[ing] the limitations of our own genetic hard-wiring, thereby enabling us to imaginatively project ourselves into the psyches of others.” He implies that a truly educated artist is easily able to “really understand... the experience of those whose race, class and/or gender is different from [his/her] own.” The assumption that an artist has the capability (and the right) to assume the identity and write on behalf of anyone else, no matter what racial, sexual, or class-based issues are involved, is a highly dangerous, violent and very Euro-centric, aristocratic approach to political and social art.
I took Copeland’s courses, “The Concept of the Avant-Garde” and “Happenings...” two years ago, and I found myself striving with great difficulty to freely formulate my own opinions without feeling threatened by Copeland’s biased point of view. Based on my experience of his teaching style, I would suggest that in practice, Copeland’s definition of education involves only unimaginatively “projecting ourselves into the psyche” of Roger Copeland. I believe Copeland’s negative reaction to identity politics is based on fear. Identity politics is a threat to all critics, like Copeland, who feel they have the knowledge and experience to judge all works of art, no matter what the subject matter may be. Copeland’s criticisms (the writings I have read and the lectures I have endured) are made which such mind-numbing authority and condescension that he must feel he “knows better” than the rest of us, and how dare anyone suggest that his ability to judge a work of art is limited by his life experience! When Copeland’s freedom as an art critic is threatened by the “post-modern” notion of identity politics, he lashes out with a bitter and cruel attack on all ideas and all people who would stifle his authoritative diatribes.

–Corey Dargel 
Conservatory senior


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