Interview with Professor David Deutsch
Professor David Deutsch is an associate professor in the Department of English at The University of Alabama. Dr. Deutsch spent his undergraduate years at the University of Georgia. He received a Ph.D. at Ohio State University and is now the Director of the UA in Oxford study abroad program. Dr. Deutsch teaches American and British drama, poetry, and prose to undergraduate students. He has also recently published a book called British Literature and Classical Music: Cultural Contexts.
When did you first become interested in American and British literature?
Probably like most English majors and many students, I’ve loved reading since a very young age. In high school and college, I began to realize how enriching the reading experience could be if I also had a better understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of a play, a novel, or a poem and a better understanding of how my reading fit into a literary tradition. This realization led me to pursue graduate studies.
Why do you think that these subjects are important for undergraduates to study?
Literature is immensely valuable—not just to read, but to consider and to contemplate and to argue with—because it helps students to analyze the complex economic, social, cultural, geographical, racial, and gendered world around them. Studying these subjects can help us to see that even the strongest traditions, many which may even seem intrinsic or natural, are changeable and susceptible to refinement. This realization allows us to improve, to adapt, and to appreciate the world around us.
There’s also the professional benefit of being able to interpret documents and to write coherently, logically, and persuasively. The English major helps train students in ways that will benefit their future careers.
How did you get involved in the UA at Oxford program? What do you love about it?
I studied in Oxford as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia; I worked for the UGA at Oxford program as a graduate student; and I have consistently tried to get back there. When I learned that UA had a program at Oxford, I jumped at the chance to help out with it.
Our program is particularly wonderful because it benefits from all of the beautiful, elegant, ancient, and sophisticated elements of the town, the university, and its nearby environments, from the Worcester College gardens to our access to the exclusive Bodleian library to the excursions we take to London, Penshurst Place, Canterbury, and Stratford. What I like most about the program, however, is how students consistently make such close friends with people whom they have never met before going abroad together. A study abroad program allows people to learn, to eat, to travel, and to experience the world together, which creates wonderful opportunities for making life-long friends.
Students can learn more about the UA at Oxford program at our new website: oxford.ua.edu
How has your involvement in the UA at Oxford program enabled you to better teach undergraduates about British literature?
I could lecture for hours about what an Oxford education meant to writers such as Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, or Dorothy Sayers and the massive role of universities in British literature. But, when you see, smell, even touch the grandiosity of the mixture of medieval, Victorian, and modern stonework, bricks, gardens, libraries, and luxuries that make up Oxford, it’s easier to talk with more authority about what a university education at Oxford or Cambridge meant to those who had it and—just as importantly—those who were excluded from it.
You have recently published British Literature and Classical Music: Cultural Contexts, 1870-1945. What would you like people to know about your book?
The book connects classical music with popular British culture, arguing that an engagement with classical music—listening to it, playing it, imagining it—helped to form the identities of various British subcultures, such as ambitious working-class intellectuals, queer communities, and cosmopolitan British individuals who thought about German classical music and realized that the German representatives spouting xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda and promoting war could not possibly represent the ideas and feelings of all of twentieth-century Germany.
What is your writing process?
My writing process tends to involve reading, more reading, writing scraps of thoughts, revising, more revising, a little crying, and a whole lot of jelly beans. I tend to try to cover a wide breadth of primary sources to make my arguments. In my first book, I’ve tried to trace large tendencies of thought across myriad novels, plays, and poems.
What is the most interesting or most valuable piece of information you’ve found in your research?
For me, there were three equally valuable pieces of information. First, there is a huge body of early-twentieth-century British queer writing that is largely overlooked in present day university syllabi and in academic books on the subject.
Second, there is the plethora of evidence that working-class communities—thought by many in power to be uneducated and culturally illiterate—were in fact engaging with high art in substantive fashions. Third, I was amazed to see how many individuals during the First and Second World Wars used classical music to imagine a Germany that was ideologically separated from horrific German politicians. We like to think of enemies as monolithic and as offering nothing to our own societies. Yet, this research provides a particular example of how this point of view is rarely accurate.
What was it like for you writing a book? What is the closest thing you can compare it to?
Writing an academic book, which is the only kind I’ve written, is sometimes funny, sometimes boring, and sometimes it makes you feel like you’re tearing your brain in to little bits only to put it back together in a different, undoubtedly better arrangement. The result, however, is that you have hopefully made a difficult subject comprehensible, relevant, and vital to your readers.
Are there any topics of interest you hope to research in the future?
Presently I’m working on a slightly different but related topic, namely a book on rural queer cultures, memory, non-linear narrative styles, and fantasy.