Across the Atlantic: Comparing Cultures with SDSU’s Dr. Bailey

By Erica Dobecki

Dr. Quentin Bailey is an English and Comparative Literature Professor at San Diego State University. Before coming to SDSU, he taught at the University of Oklahoma and received his Masters and Doctorate both in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. His Bachelors was obtained from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

We had the amazing opportunity to interview Dr. Bailey for our second volume of Crossroads.

Crossroads: What have you noticed is different within modern American literature and modern British literature?

QB: Hmm. That’s a huge question. I think the thing that stands out most to me is the geographic orientation. There is a wonderful strand of contemporary British writing that draws its strength, its vitality, its varying modes of expression, and its vocabulary from the experiences wrought by Imperialism. Rushdie is obviously key in this regard, but it’s true too, for instance, of Zadie Smith. Of course, there are also very different strands in British writing that relate to locales or situations that might be thought of as more quintessentially “British” —Graham Swift and some of Ian McEwan’s work might fall into this category.

CR: You received your degree from Oxford. What are a few of the most notable differences between the ubaileyniversities in the States and in England?

QB: I think the biggest difference, especially for undergraduates, is the level of specialization in the British system. If you go to Oxford to study English as an undergraduate, that is all you will do — 3 years of nothing but English. No GE, no requirements other than a prescribed series of courses about English literature.

CR: Continuing on with school, what do you want your students, on the whole, to take away from your classes?

QB: I would like them to have found ways to articulate the kinds of experiences literature encourages. To be able, in other words, to explain to others what it is that they took from a particular piece of writing …and not just to say that they found something “interesting” or that they “enjoyed it”. That’s why we work so hard in some of my classes on formulating good, concise answers.

CR: What are your favorite novels to teach and why? Or do you prefer to teach poetry?

QB: That’s another tough one. Poems are often difficult for students. I enjoy trying to make them accessible and engaging — and to discourage a sense that there is a single “right” answer. Novels are a little different — people know how to approach them. I generally like to include a mix in my classes. I enjoyed teaching “Mary Barton” this semester — I think it’s a novel that really wrestles with its problems. I think that’s good to see. I’ve just taught “The Brothers Karamazov” too, and could really see the students engaging with the novel’s issues and questions. That, too, is good to see.

CR: When you are not teaching, do you ever write prose or verse?

QB: I write a fair amount of literary criticism when I’m not teaching. I wrote a review of recent scholarship in British Romanticism literature this semester, as well as an essay on Wordsworth’s poem “The Ruined Cottage,” trying to reconstruct the impact of the poem on its first readers. I’m also at work on a book about William Hazlitt, the early art critic who was one of the first people to write about the Elgin Marbles — the marbles that were taken from the Parthenon early in the nineteenth century.

CR: And, finally, what advice would you give to any students, future or current?

QB: Easy. Enjoy your classes, the readings, and the writing. There are way, way worse things to do than read and discuss (in oral or written forms) attempts by a range of writers to describe the experiences of living. Some are fun, some sad … but savor the experience of reading and reflecting on them.

Thank you so much to Professor Bailey for his interview with Crossroads!

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