Toronto Diary
2 min

U of T prof incites uproar over comment about teaching ‘serious heterosexual guys’ lit

In case you haven't seen it by now, University of Toronto English professor David Gilmour is in the middle of a shit-storm after claiming in an interview that he teaches only literature by "serious heterosexual guys." Apparently, that means no women, no queer people and no Chinese people. Shockingly, this did not sit well with many people.

In the ensuing fallout, Paul Stevens, the acting chair of U of T's English Department, sent out an email to collleagues and graduates distancing himself and his department from Gilmour's statement. The email, obtained by Gawker via an anonymous source, states:

"Like all those of you who have seen David Gilmour's comments in the Hazlitt magazine on teaching literature at U of T, I was appalled and deeply upset. They constitute a travesty of all we stand for. I will be pursuing the matter further today. There seem to me two points that immediately need to be emphasized. First, David Gilmour is not a member of the Department of English at the University of Toronto, and second, his ill-informed and offensive views could not be less representative of the passionately held values and actual practices of the Department. Please feel free to circulate this message as you think appropriate."

For an English professor, Gilmour's comments aren't exactly indicative of his position. It's his job to teach people to think critically about the English language and how it expresses our ideas and opinions and views; if you can't be bothered to spare some forethought as to how what you say and how you express yourself might be construed by others, then the shit-storm might have been warranted.

I was also going to add something about how literature is supposed to force us out of our own lives so that we can empathize with people outside the limits of our own understanding and help us fully realize the world around us, but then I read this piece by U of T professor Holger Syme, so I'm just going to let him say it way better than I could have ever possibly hoped to . . .

"Most crucially, David Gilmour doesn’t seem to grasp why anyone should read literature at all. We can argue about whether Hamlet is right or not when he claims that art holds a mirror up to nature. But let’s just say he is. Here’s what Hamlet doesn’t say: that art is a mirror you choose to pick up to see yourself. Art shows you a mirror. That thing you see in there isn’t supposed to be your pre-conceived self-image. It’s something strange, and alien, and scary, or ridiculous, or dull. But it’s something that demands engagement. And sometimes, it becomes something that you realize is in fact you — but that’s not meant to be a happy realization. If the thing you see when you look into a book looks exactly like what you think you look like, you’re doing it wrong. And David Gilmour is most certainly doing it wrong."

See what I mean? Way better.