Kent Bales: Preface
Charles Wharram: Mapping the Intertext, or, An Environmental Impact Assessment of the MLA's Introduction to Scholarship
Antonis Balasopoulos: The Limits of Eloquence: Debating the "Post-colonial"--Homi K. Bhabha's "The Postcolonial and the Postmodern: The Question of Agency"
Zhenzhen Jiang: Boundaries Withdrawn: The Mistakes of Cultural Studies
Rick Lybeck: Champion of Democratic Scholarship, or Academic Heretic? Robert Scholes as Contributor to the Modern Language Association's Introduction to Scholarship
Karamia Kurtti Gutierrez: A Case for Objectivity: Schor's Subjectivity
Sarah Wadsworth: The Scholar in Society
Tommy Kim: Opening Literary Studies
Holly Littlefield: Rethinking the Canon
Paul Johnson: A (Re)view of Gerald Graff's Professing Literature
Laurie Dickinson: Toward a Usable Future: On Re-reading Gerald Graff's Professing Literature and "Teach the Conflicts" after November, 1994
Tracy van der Leeuw: Professing an Opinion: A Review of Professing Literature in the Context of Graduate Education
Mzenga Wanyama: Backgrounders or Critics? Alternative Modes of Professing Literature
Jim Countryman: Implications of Electronic Texting
Suzanne Wells: Where's Waldo? Reflections on a Composition Student Lost in a Crowd.
Allison Veser: Sound Advice from Other Student Writers
Christian Aggelar: A Feeling in the Gut: Edward M. Griffin's "Something Else in Place of All That"
Terese Lewis: Ginsberg Writes Malamud
These essays came out of a ritual induction into graduate studies in literature and writing. The ritual consists of a seminar that has as many names as there are graduate programs but the single function of introducing the newest professional scholars to the ways, principles, and moves of the discipline. Nobody comes innocent to this ritual, for all have been drawn to the profession by their former studies. Each brings a unique mix of savvy, ignorance, hope, and illusion--and often some resentment as well. In 1994 the young scholars who gathered at Minnesota for this seminar represented unusually diverse backgrounds. They came from Canada, China, Greece, Kenya, Papua, and Sweden as well as from the United States. Many came by way of detours. One had been teaching in South Africa, another in Norway, yet another in Houston. Some had been editors and computer specialists, while two came on leave from teaching or administering programs at other Minnesota universities. Not all contributed to this collection of essays, but all did to the success of the seminar.
All but the final essay derive from the reading done for this course and the discussion of it in class, by email, or in discussion groups that formed on their own. That last essay, however, answers by example some of the questions that arose repeatedly in these forums.
We studied two recent collections of essays published by the Modern Language Association of America largely for use in this professional ritual and a third by a single hand that considers what has been taught in English departments at American universities and what should be taught in them, especially at this juncture. From the outset the language of some of these essays, the "professional discourse" that they embody (as we now often say), posed problems--and not simply of intelligibility. They proved to be a good starting point, for considering how we write and talk in literary studies (and how we ought to do so) leads inevitably to questions about what to study and write about, how to teach it, and how well such study and writing permit us to contribute as intellectuals to the life of a democracy.
Reviewing the MLA's Redrawing the Boundaries a few months after we had done so, Richard Kostelanetz complained that the style of too many of its essays is like that of "books printed in America and purportedly written here ... that read like bad translations from the French." Such is precisely the problem (to use one of those French tics) that George Berkeley identified in last summer's MLA Newsletter, when he advises "younger academics in English departments" not to bury their ideas (and chances of winning a fellowship) "underneath the professional jargon now the common coinage of graduate seminars." The instance that he gives, "a privileged site of contestation," might well move Kostelanetz, were he to read Berkeley's complaint, to say "that's exactly what I meant!" Translating this and other such phrases--but really the underlying ideas that they obscure--occupied much of my time that term in 1994 and the next, for as Director of Graduate Studies in English I was writing cover letters for graduate fellowship applications in which I made as clear as I could to the reviewing committees what the applicant was up to and why the referees thought it worth supporting with scarce money. It was the hardest part of the job.
Shortly before the Newsletter's publication last summer, the "Sokal affair" broke in the New York Times, Lingua Franca, and numerous discussion groups (largely academic) on the Internet. While it came three years too late to be of use in the seminar, what help it would have given! This hoax worked because Sokal, a physicist, was able to stitch together an argument for a special "Science Wars" issue of Social Text in jargon typical of Cultural Studies yet replete with howlers obvious to any physicist or mathematician. Most of the email traffic that I saw concentrated on the status of jargon or on the ethical questions involved in the hoax or in the special issue, but Sokal himself made a different and more telling point: "All this was very easy to carry off because my argument wasn't obliged to respect any standards of evidence or logic." The obvious, embarrassing fact demonstrated by Sokal's hoax is that talking the talk is in itself evidence in some quarters that you're right--and that literary studies occupy some of those quarters.
Now defining and refining evidence are tricky matters, and a fair attack could be mounted against what seem to be Sokal's assumptions about them. In the circumstances, though, such a critique probably would have failed to convince anybody but the already convinced, since it seems clear that Sokal's article hadn't been held to any settled standards other than what readers of Social Text believe to be good evidence and logic. Besides, those believers had been shown in very unseemly postures by an earnest, long, and widely distributed email message. In it Lee Smolin, a scientist and friend of Sokal's, gave what could be called testimonial evidence against how Cultural Studies deals with scientists and scientific inquiry. Scientists feel like lab animals, Smolin claimed, when studied by "people who, instead of trying sympathetically to understand us, are inventing interpretations of what we do, and what we care about, in order to further their own purposes and agendas." Against this practice Smolin sets science (natural science, at any rate), "that enterprise in which we aim to give to nature the same kind of respect that in a democracy we aspire to give to each other."
While Cultural Studies is but one field for literary scholars to work in, it is now one of the most popular, and so too are the suspicion of established disciplines that so often characterizes it and the resentment that so often accompanies the suspicion. In a public debate of the kind instigated by Sokal, such assumptions and tactics are likely to fail before the simple idealism with which Smolin can define the goal of science while admitting that the practice can fall short of the ideal. Cultural Studies, and, without the capital letters, the cultural study that literary studies always are and have been in some way, need to have some such clarity of goal to guide upon, some ideal that clearly is humane and important and not the privileged domain of some part of society.
Gerald Graff's Professing Literature tries to show that no such goal exists for literary studies or ever has, but that a proper profession of literature can be created in the act of teaching various ways of reading and the whys of their differences. The attempted practicality of Graff's idea is attractive, a goal of sorts and a coherent practice, yet there is much in it to arouse the suspicion of beginning scholars (just as it has evoked the settled suspicions of most mature ones). It is understandably the subject of the largest share of essays in this collection, which is one reason why those concerning it are placed in the middle. The other reason is that, for all of these young scholars, teaching seems to be the most important of the scholar's various tasks--the most nearly central. May it continue to be so! And may they be open to other proposals, like Graff's, that will keep the question of how to read central to the classroom rather than making an answer. Such a proposal came recently from Charles Bernstein, who teaches poetry by what he calls "hypertextuality, ... an art of transition through and among frames. Call it the art of parataxis, where the elements set side by side are critical methods rather than images or ideas; an art of practice, which provides not answers but paths of reading and provisional connections among these paths." Bernstein finds cultural studies to be friendlier to such a practice than are the usual professional practices of literary study (indeed, he seems to find it necessary), but like me he finds too much of Cultural Studies to be "frame-fixed," fixed, that is, on demonstrating the adequacy of answers rather than finding the most useful of questions. So to the many in that now distant seminar who found that cultural studies provides new questions and new ways of framing questions, I recommend yet another reading, if you haven't already found it on your own. I recommend it to our readers as well as a worthy proposal to take up after you have listened to these newer voices.
It has been a pleasure to work with them for the ten weeks of the quarter and, off and on, for the nearly three years that it has taken this collection to make it on stage. I am solely responsible for the delay.
Joseph Gibaldi's preface to the MLA's Introduction to Scholarship of 1992 contains the following disclaimer: "since mapping intellectual terrain is not as precise a science as mapping physical terrain is, readers will probably notice some unavoidable overlapping among essays" (v). In fact, the overlapping seems something more stressed than to be avoided in the various cartographies of the Introduction. Gibaldi goes on to qualify the statement above by staking the claim that these overlappings "may prove illuminating and provocative" (v). Let's see ...
A rather odd phenomenon presents itself to us almost immediately upon our entrance into the text. On the third page, Edward Finnegan tells us to "See Baron in this volume" (5). A few pages later, we are invited to read Gunn's essay for "more on the cross-disciplinary use of linguistic constructs" (12). If we accept Finnegan's invitation, we meet, in a discussion of the bridged "gap between linguistics and semiotics" (247-8), Gunn's recommendation to "see also the essay by Finnegan in this volume" (248). This type of citation is quite different from the "normal" citations or recommended readings which present themselves in the "Introduction," that of already-published works. If the Finnegan-Gunn example of cross-textual referrals were an isolated case, we might not notice it, but we are constantly being shuttled back and forth between "mappings": Culler says, "see Naomi Schor" (227), but Schor counters, "see Culler in this volume" (277); Bathrick and Gunn have a similar referential correspondence (242, 320). This phenomenon, however, can not be reduced to dualisms: for example, Gunn sends us to Marshall (248), who sends us to Schor (170), to Culler (277), and back to Gunn (227). (Aside: why does one feel the need to form a circle?) Referrals by one contributor to another in the Introduction reach well beyond forty instances, and this does not include allusions to previously published material. Unavoidable overlapping? I should rather think the cross-referencing emphasizes the overlapping to such an extent that a recognition of it is unavoidable.
What could then be the effect of this recognition? Well, the idea is ludicrous, but one could almost imagine that the essays were all written at the same time, the contributors sitting together discussing what their texts involve: in this way, Donald Marshall could have tapped Robert Scholes on the elbow and whispered to him, "Hey, Robert, mind if I quote you on that part you wrote questioning the idea of only a few literary works as great?" (162). This probably wasn't the case. But the tracts do seem to originate from a unified field--a place and time which allows the contributors easy access to each other's texts. One shouldn't construe this to mean that I don't find the cross-references useful in any way: I merely wish to point out that they tend to produce the effect that the texts were all written in a realm outside "normal" time and space--how else could two texts cite each other? Such an effect partakes, as Scholes says, of a "notion of textuality [which] weakens the boundaries of the individual textual object and reduces the strength of its connection to an individual author or specific situation" (155).
Aren't we reminded at the end of each cartography, though, that the contributors are indeed spatially separated? There we find the final words of the essay (excepting the notes)--"Duke University", "University of California, Berkeley", etc. Although some are more geographical than others ("University of Chicago," as opposed to "Cornell University"), it isn't so much the physical terrain (Chicago, Ithaca) as the intellectual terrain that's stressed: all locators contain the word "university". In this sense, the geographical "boundaries" between the tracts in the "Introduction" are "weakened"--they all spring from the institutional space of the American university. Separate, yet interwoven, both the texts and the institutions form an intertext, webbed together by the cross-referencing of the contributors.
The cross-referential stratagem here employed not only reflects a Barthesque conception of textuality--"the metaphor of the Text is that of the NETWORK" (154, cited by Scholes)--but also betrays a process which emphasizes the production of the separate texts by the separate contributors, a process which in no way can be reduced to the metaphor of an "organism," Barthes' description of the "work" (154, cited by Scholes). The process which allowed the various contributors to cross-reference each other was probably much more cumbersome a task than tapping one's neighbor on the elbow. In fact, before the advent of email and the fax machine, it probably would have been too cumbersome to be feasible for professors at various institutions to cite each other within the space of one collection of essays. I can only imaginatively reconstruct the production of the cross-references--I can defend this only by noting that when I encountered the numerous "intertextual pointings", I simply felt obliged to do so. (Discussions with colleagues have verified to me that they too tried to imagine how the references were produced.) It's quite a simple reconstruction--too simple perhaps, but the details are unimportant. By fax machine or through a computer network, contributor A sends contributor B a rough draft and vice versa. Contributor A reads the text by B, decides whether or not their "mappings" overlap, and decides whether or not to cross-reference B's text. B does likewise. All contributors do so. I must emphasize that such a procedure has only been made feasible in our age of high-speed information transfer. The contributors are thus allowed, even encouraged to become more intimately hooked into the institutional network of the university. In "emphasiz[ing] the intertextuality of many texts" with the plethora of cross-references in the Introduction, the various contributors do not "reduce the strength of its [the text's] connection to ... a specific situation", as Scholes claims, rather they ironically force the reader to contemplate the institutional network (the "specific situation") which helped produce these texts--that is, a separated intimacy that is stressed at the end of every contribution in the "University of ...."
The analysis thus far shows us a stressed intertextual network in the Introduction which leads us to the context of the institutional network of the university. It's not difficult to see why it is that theorists have a stake in connecting their enterprise to the world outside their institutional network--there's certainly a danger in getting webbed in. And there's no doubt that many contributors here are anxious to show theory's relevance to the outside world: indeed, most of the critical issues of today's politics are addressed in this textual network--economic, racial, feminist, imperial, sexual, hierarchical, and psychoanalytical politics. Nothing wrong with that.
But one crucial issue of today's world outside this institutional context is omitted entirely from the Introduction, which returns me to Gibaldi's metaphor of "mapping intellectual terrain". Three other quotations, the first from Annabel Patterson, the second and third from Jonathan Culler, should map an "omission in coverage" (Gibaldi, v):
Literary texts have always been, more or less, products of their historical, social, political, and economic environments .... (185)
The main thrust of recent theory ... [is] the demonstration that what has been thought or declared natural is in fact a historical, cultural construction. (207)
[L]iterature is a space that offers special opportunities for observing the construction of the natural and its exposure as a construction and thus for reflecting on both the processes of construction and the act of critical analysis. (208-9)
In today's vernacular, the terms "environment" (Patterson) and "natural" (Culler) have quite different meanings to those employed here. Both Patterson's "environment" and Culler's "natural" are divested of all non-human associations: in fact, they are rampantly anthropocentric.
Patterson's "environments" are all human constructs, and Culler's "the natural" is defined as such--as a human construct. But surely the destruction of "the natural" (in the vernacular sense), the "environment", or the "non-human" is one of the most pressing issues of our contemporary situation. It has become a recognized pattern of voter behavior that citizens view the environment as one of the most decisive factors in their choosing political representatives, not only in the "Western World", but in Eastern Europe and the underdeveloped world as well. Why is it that these literary and cultural theorists, while answering the call to be politically relevant and effective, seem to leave the "environment" outside the "intellectual terrain" of critical discourse? Is there something in their conception of textuality that makes such an "omission" possible, even unavoidable?
The topos of production for "mappings" based on notions of textuality devoid of the non-human must be an "intellectual terrain" and not a "physical terrain," must be "Cornell University" and not Ithaca. The question arises, though, what would a critical text that mapped out a place for non-human elements, what could "environmental criticism," look like? Well, although it must reject the Derridean "il n'y a pas de hors-texte" (153, cited by Scholes), it can not detract the critical insights delineated in the Introduction; however, as naive as it may sound, the institution of scholarship in modern languages and literatures can no longer afford to allow environmental issues to be uncritically mapped over.
Any institutional discourse necessarily leaves certain elements outside its frames of intelligibility: the argument I present here is not that there are exclusionary tactics being undertaken, rather that there seems to be something about the concepts of textuality buried in the Introduction which makes it impossible for the contributors to address the environmental issue or even to recognize its omission. The fact that the MLA has left environmental concerns beyond criticism is that much more surprising when one considers the possible positive effects that could be generated in the citizenship at large by bringing criticism and environmentalism closer together. The environmental movement has a way of uniting citizens pro-actively: a recent poll in Canada showed that over two thirds of Canadians would be "willing to pay 10 per cent more for their energy if the money were redirected to reduce air pollution" (Canadian Press, Nov. 07, 1994). At a time when English Departments are fighting to maintain financial support, wouldn't it be an obvious "strategic move" to embrace an issue which seems capable of seeing taxpayers willingly part from their dollars? Such a move is cynical, of course, and I'm in no way suggesting that this is a good reason to "go environmental". My point is that it is inconceivable--looking at it from every angle--how this has been left unmapped in literary theory. How is the MLA's silence to be interpreted when even McDonald's pays lip service to the environment? As a grave omission--an omission that is, like the environmental crisis that confronts us, too grave to uphold.
Written Under the Manitoba Maple,
Minneapolis, MNCharles Wharram Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 email@example.com
Much like passports, which serve the ambivalent function of both allowing us into alien territory and of reminding us of the socially conditioned boundaries of our freedom, terminological passwords function both to sanction our entry into the academic polis and to impose conditions on our freedom to engage in the potentially disruptive activity of intellectual anomie. It is ironically because of the disruptive operation, within the last thirty years, of a (politically anchored) rebellion against the rules that govern entry and habitation in the academic polis that a new set of rules and conditions has been instituted. This new set of rules poses a challenge not only to what has been seen as the complacency and conservatism of the intellectuals of the old guard, but also to the innocuous liberalism and individualistic anti-conformism of the new. The imperative to attend to historical specificity, the need to be aware of the ideological implications of one's own positions, and the responsibility to effectively navigate the space separating the academic "ivory tower" from the noisy sphere of the social, constitute a (contested) framework of regulation and legitimation of academic work that has effectively superseded older academic orthodoxies, placing even the most "safely" established academic passwords under renewed, and often suspicious, scrutiny.
As a result, the emergence, within the western academy, of "post-colonial" studies--a discipline whose strong debt to the work of anti-colonial intellectuals like Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, C.L.R James, and Amilcar Cabral is often overshadowed by the trendiness of the avant-guard temporality of the "post"--has been accompanied by an often fierce debate concerning issues of critical theory, textual practice, geopolitical location, cultural representation, and discursive power. It is within this context of contestation that I would like to situate Bhabha's article, interrogating its ideological and methodological presuppositions, while also pointing to the gaps and silences that accompany the emergence, within academic texts, of legitimating passwords/passports such as "post-colonial studies."
First published in Redrawing the Boundaries, a 1992 MLA anthology on "The Transformation of English and American Literary Studies," Homi Bhabha's article on "Postcolonial Criticism" was republished in his own 1994 collection of essays, The Location of Culture, under a different title: "The Postcolonial and the Postmodern: The Question of Agency." I make this rather trivial reference to point to something that is fairly important: Bhabha's article stands out from most of the articles in Redrawing The Boundaries, not only because it does not provide the customary overview of current developments in the field, but also because it seems to bear a rather oblique relation to its very object of reference, namely "postcolonial" criticism. The 1994 title seems to provide a much more adequate context for the prominent position that Western intellectuals (Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Roland Barthes, Mikhail Bakhtin, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault) hold in this article--both because their contributions are examined in the light of the postmodern problematic and because they are appropriated by Bhabha as tools for the theoretical exploration of the question of agency.
It is curious that an article that in 1992 ostensibly referred to "postcolonial criticism" became in 1994 an article on "the postcolonial and the postmodern" without undergoing any change in content--curious, but not accidental. Bhabha rather explicitly shows that he sees the colonial moment as little more than a privileged space of access to the problematics of the "postmodern condition": "[my] growing conviction has been that the encounters and negotiations of differential meanings and values within 'colonial' textuality ... have enacted ... many of the problematics of signification and judgement that have become current in contemporary theory--aporia, ambivalence, indeterminacy, the question of discursive closure, the threat to agency ...." To make things even clearer, he will later add: "I have tried ... to rename the postmodern from the position of the postcolonial."
The objection could of course be raised that examining the interrelationship between postmodernism and postcolonialism does not necessarily privilege the former over to the latter; yet there is, in this article, ample evidence to the contrary. Bhabha's writing abounds in such comfortable abstractions as "the postcolonial perspective," "the postcolonial intellectual," and "the postcolonial prerogative," which function more like magical incantations of absent totalities than as indications of the attention to "social specificity" which, ironically enough, Bhabha tirelessly evokes. The careful, analytic reading of the writings of Western intellectuals is coupled by an off-handed appropriation of the work of the Subaltern Studies group, used here to illustrate the importance of "contingency" and "ambivalence" within the colonial context, while central issues such as the social, economic and ideological relationships that have bound the Indian peasantry to both the colonial regime and the native elite are silently elided. The indifference shown to both theoretical and literary work performed within the context of anti-colonial nationalism contrasts ironically with the heavy privileging of the (characteristically postmodern) issues that Bhabha sees as pertaining to the diasporic and migrant populations residing in the Western metropolis. And finally, questions of language, signification, enunciation, and discursive indeterminacy occupy center stage in Bhabha's narrative of post-colonial (read post-modern) agency, overshadowing the (not so "post") conditions of persistent relations of neo-colonial dependency, Western (overt or covert) military intervention, third-world labor and resource expropriation, uneven development, racial persecution and ethnic cleansing, the increasing gap between third world masses and comprador elites, or the repression of women's rights by (predominantly male) third world states.
I cannot of course supplement Bhabha's notions of textuality with my socio-historical symptomatology of post-colonial life under multinational capital without begging the question of the relationship between the social and the discursive. Since the status of these terms and their relation to each other seems hardly settled in contemporary theory, and because of limitations imposed by space, it might be more helpful to phrase the issue at hand in the form of a simpler question: is Bhabha denying the existence of a split between the discursive and the social, assuming that the social does not exist outside his (heavily textual) concept of the discursive, or is he attempting to relegate to unimportance the often stubbornly "archaic" post-colonial social reality in favor of the attractions of a complex and unstable discursivity?
In the same year that Bhabha's essay appeared, Nicholas Dirks published an article on colonial discourse in India, critiquing the theoretical stance that Bhabha's writing perfectly exemplifies. Says Dirks: "it is all too often the case that the historical experience of colonialism--along with the contemporary politics of postcolonialism--gets lost in the elegant new textualism of colonial discourse studies." Nevertheless, I suspect that Bhabha's answer to both Dirks and me can be found in the following quote from his article: "The postcolonial perspective ... departs from the traditions of the sociology of underdevelopment of 'dependency' theory. As a mode of analysis, it attempts to revise those nationalist or 'nativist' pedagogies that set up the relation of Third World and First World in a binary structure of opposition."
Such an answer proves to be rather ambivalent. On the one hand, it points to our first supposition by marking Bhabha's refusal to separate the social from the discursive--thence the implicit critique of the positivism of "underdevelopment" sociology. In this respect, Bhabha's understanding of the post-colonial may be defended on the premise that it is not that of a purely aesthetic category that is opposed to history; rather, his "elegant textualism" attempts to reinforce the view that a sophisticated approach to the social text illuminates it precisely as such--a text, bound to the same discursive phenomena of splitting, ambivalence, and indeterminacy that the postmodern text exemplifies. A conscientious poststructuralist, Bhabha rejects the notion of history as the transcendental incarnation of the totality of human relations, and refuses to endorse the idea that we can approach the "post-colonial" problematic through a transparent narrative of cause and effect, unity and totality, as various sociologies have attempted to.
On the other hand, Bhabha's critique of "nationalist and 'nativist' pedagogies" seems to give credence to our second supposition. There seems to be a rejection of the "social" to the extent that it has been contaminated by the simplistic and archaic inflections of nationalist narratives which insist on structuring the post-colonial reality along a series of crude, binary oppositions. The narrative of the post-colonial nation is overlooked precisely to the extent that it is a nationalist narrative, plagued by the antiquarian and unsophisticated notions of continuity, authenticity, progress and unanimousness. It is for this reason that the post-colonial is willy-nilly reduced to the transnational, to the conditions of migration and diaspora which provide Bhabha with the occasion for a celebration of the insight provided by cultural homelessness: "it is from those who have suffered the sentence of history--subjugation, domination, diaspora, displacement--that we learn our most enduring lessons ... the affective condition of social marginality ... transforms our critical strategies."
Paradoxically, what gets effaced here is the very violence of the process of subjugation to which Bhabha's language refers. Conflating conditions such as dispossession, systematic genocide, acculturation, slavery, forced dislocation and willful immigration (all present within different historical examples of colonialist policy) and quickly substituting the political nature of historical trauma with the cultural "fringe benefit" of critical insight, Bhabha does more than simply resist colonialist and nationalist appropriations of history; he erases history altogether. However one might answer the question of Bhabha's theoretical orientation, it remains ironic that in the process of ostensibly deconstructing binarisms he unwittingly gives rise to a new one. The social may already be discursive, but the social that is worth any attention is that which conforms to Bhabha's post-structuralist, albeit normative, conception of discourse. I find such an approach rather disturbing, especially because it tends to be more insidiously reductive than the positivism it critiques.
The condescending equation of national cultures with "imaginary museums" is blatantly contradicted by the extremely complicated and constantly shifting nexus of alliances, antagonisms, contradictions, and discontinuities that cultural and political struggles in third world nations bring to focus. A characteristic example derived from recent events comes from Giacaman and Johnson's description of the "unstable mix of gender and politics in Palestine today." Describing a political march in modern Palestine, Giacaman and Johnson write: "In a prominent position at the head of the march, female students from the Popular Front, clad in bluejeans, brandished red-splattered rocks, while young men held banners against self-government. At the end of the march, 'sisters' from Hamas [Palestine's Islamic fundamentalist party] walked as a segregated bloc. To the surprise of some observers, several young women were not wearing the obligatory head scarf .... In the middle, young women partisans of the Democratic Front in casual Western attire mixed uneasily with Hamas men." The mobilization and contestation of national, religious and gender identities which emerges in our short anecdote from a day in the life of a nationalist struggle is characteristic of the complexity and dynamism of what Bhabha has chosen to relegate to the status of an "imaginary museum." Complexity, it seems, is the exclusive privilege of those who have--by force or choice--placed themselves outside the repetitive murmur of nationalist "mythologies."
In the final section of his article, Bhabha addresses a critique of prominent French intellectual Michel Foucault on the basis of the latter's disavowal of "the colonial moment as an enunciative present in the historical and epistemological condition of Western modernity." Ironically, it is Bhabha's very critique of Eurocentrism that most fully accentuates the limitations of his own position. The project of the article--the exploration, through post-structuralist theory, of the notion of post-colonial agency and the articulation of the implications that such an agency has for the conceptualization of social space, human community and political action--reaches its theoretical limits in the conclusive assertion that "modernity and postmodernity are constituted from the marginal perspective of cultural difference." Despite Bhabha's best intentions, the debate largely remains couched within the space of western discourse. If "the postcolonial condition" acquires any meaning, it is only in its relation to the west; the postcolonial can be either "postmodern" (when experienced through the affective displacement of a stateless diaspora) or "antimodern" (when bounded by the archaic inheritance of the nation-state), but it cannot be conceived outside the western narrative of modernity. In the end, the third world remains with its eyes fixed towards the first, articulating, in the "elegant textuality" of Bhabha's discourse, an otherness which is always already domesticated by the persistent vocabulary of the self-same.Antonis Balasopoulos University of Minnesota Department of English Minneapolis MN 55455 firstname.lastname@example.org
In their essay "Cultural Criticism" (included in Redrawing the Boundaries), Gerald Graff and Bruce Robbins attempt to defend the theory-oriented practice of cultural criticism and envision the emerging field of cultural studies. It is a difficult task well done, considering the limited space. However, my doubts remain. Probably due to the very contentious nature of the subject, Graff and Robbins reach a tentative definition of "cultural studies" only at the end of the essay, where they state that "its one uncontested principle has been respect for the lived experience of cultures in the plural, particular sense, which issues in a hospitable inclusiveness to 'low' or uncanonical objects, activities, genres, and styles that Culture in the singular, universal sense had tended to neglect. Cultural studies suggests that the aim of cultural criticism is ... to bring together, in a common democratic space of discussion, diversities that had remained unequal largely because they had remained apart" (434-435).
It seems to me such a mapping of the domain of cultural studies betrays a tendency towards globalization that is both ideal and vague. For one thing, granted the disruptive nature of space in the postmodern sense, it may well be insufficient for Graff and Robbins to simply assume the possibility of such a "common democratic space" without any explanations as to what such a space might be. Similarly, they aim at coming up with a universal scheme of cultural criticism while the model they provide and the evidence they use are based exclusively on American and European experience of "diversity."
In the first part of the quotation I cited, Graff and Robbins call for "a hospitable inclusiveness to 'low' or 'uncanonical'" objects that are neglected by Culture, a call which carries a normative ideal. This gesture implies a shift of the distinction between the supposedly "high" and "low" culture from one based on genre (popular/folk culture versus serious literature) to one based on value judgment. Seen in the light of the entire essay and of literary debate at large, this shift has achieved several effects. In one regard, it has unwittingly submerged the category of "literature" into a larger ubiquitous entity of "culture" and seemingly evaded the debate over literature versus non-literature. However, literature does not disappear; its very presence is hinted at by the word "uncanonical" and more enormously felt in Graff and Robbins' discussion of culture. In fact, they often use terms like literature and culture loosely, replacing cultural criticism with literary criticism. Likewise, the move of redefining literature and non-literature simply gets transmitted into the attempt to reevaluate "high" and "low" culture, which inevitably inherits the problems of redefining literature.
In actual practice, redrawing the boundaries between the literary and non-literary often takes place as a one-way movement of uplifting the traditionally non-literary to the realm of the literary, rarely the other way around. Such a tendency is seen in literature classes where historical documents get studied as literary texts. Similarly, when Graff and Robbins ask for a hospitable inclusiveness to "low" objects, they essentially make a statement that raises "low" culture to the status of "high" culture by reinstating its legitimate position in cultural studies. The problem with such a practice is that when the non-literary and the "low" cultures acquire a higher status, they acquire also the implication of social functions originally associated with the "high." Graff and Robbins well sort out the ambiguity of "culture" and defy the interpretation of culture both in its anthropological sense of denoting the whole way of life and in its normative sense of bourgeois idealism. Transcending the limitations of both, they define culture as "a contested space" containing "indeterminate sites of social conflicts and contradictions" (435). Thus, culture is universally politicized, as is cultural criticism. As is observed in the essay, "literary study became identified with a democratic counterculture that challenges the social conservatism of the earlier classical curriculum" (422). However, as Graff and Robbins convincingly demystify the humanistic idealism in the Arnoldian tradition, which presupposes a uniform and consensual organic community, they seem to me in the very process to mystify a political idealism of democracy. In lieu of the abandoned quasi-religious mission of "humanity," a new political mission embodied in the resurgence of PC messages is universally assigned to literature and culture in their enlarged scope. Such a trend is reflected in the very gesture of "uplifting" the nonliterary to the literary, the "low" culture to the "high" culture. Poets are no longer "legislators of the world," but theorists are.
In defending theory, Graff and Robbins state that "it is easy enough to argue in principle that postmodern theory is a struggle to constitute a new discourse of cultural generality that will transcend academic specialism. But it is difficult in practice for that theory to make itself publicly intelligible and available" (433). As I see it, the difficulty in practice originates in the paradox in principle. On the one hand, rising out of postmodern theory, cultural criticism denies coherent and meaningful experience and recognizes "inescapable cultural differences, division and dissonance" (433). On the other hand, it attempts to construct "cultural generality" on a universal ground, in this case, the political nature of all cultures. Such a dilemma traps not only Graff and Robbins. In contending against the notion of "humanity" in literature, they deny the possibility of "humanity" that is other than "middle-class European." Therefore, "humanity" becomes a contaminated term impinged with conservatism. These theorists probably aren't aware that it took a generation of Chinese writers and literary critics to reinstate the concept of "humanity" out of the maze of conflicting class struggles; it was a radical rather than conservative gesture for them to deliberately distance literature from the domain of politics by favoring the aesthetic value of literature over the political messages it is supposed to carry. Seen in the light of what has happened around the world, the model of global cultural reconstruction that American or European theorists have envisioned is both conveniently and inevitably American or European, thus hardly applicable to the world at large.
My point here is not to deprecate democracy, nor the effort of redrawing the boundaries between such antithesis as literature and politics, literature and theory. Instead, I suspect the tendency to generalize in this global discourse called cultural studies. Both in resisting the notion of "organic community," which makes it impossible to delineate culture, and in reconstructing a universal culture of social conflicts, Graff and Robbins seem to have ignored the local and the specific. In redrawing the academic boundaries, they have come close to withdrawing cultural boundaries.Zhenzhen Jiang Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 email@example.com
"I do not see how anyone can teach without standards, but I cannot find any single standard for determining the worth of a text. I do not, that is, believe in literature either as a body of spiritually informed texts or as a universal standard of textual value. I have lost my faith (and, yes, I once had it) in literature as an institution."
In this dispirited manner Robert Scholes "runs up his own flag" in academia's politically charged battle over canonicity and textuality, a fight which pits orthodox humanists against heterodox relativists for control over the literary canon and departmental curricula. Reading such a powerless declaration, sounded by such a distinguished professor and critic of literature as Scholes, could well dishearten young scholars seeking orientation on the state of modern literary studies within the pages of the MLA's Introduction to Scholarship. Scholes, now in his fourth prolific decade as a professional reader, stops just short of "literary atheism" in informing the next generation of professors of the seriousness of this battle that is the legacy of post-structuralist theory. By briefly tracing the history of the politicization of literary studies, Scholes lets his readers in on what lies behind the disputatious atmosphere of the modern academy, where use of seemingly inconsequential terms such as "text," "literature," and "canon" can sway important decisions on departmental hiring and funding. His warning against careless usage of such politically loaded terms makes it clear that those who fail to take a stand on matters of canonicity and textuality could quite possibly perish in the modern university's hostile environment. So why the faintheartedness?
Scholes' alleged loss of faith typifies a general rhetoric of despair being applied by intellectuals seeking sympathy for their position in the current canon debate. Scholes makes no bones about claiming allegiance to the relativists' cause in his article, something a literary nonbeliever could scarcely do. Moreover, why would one who has lost faith in the institution agree to contribute an article to the embodiment of the institution itself? From the opposite end of the theoretical spectrum, Harold Bloom has recently made a similar move. In The Western Canon, he voices a lamentation over the state of literary studies while boldly redefining the canon: "I have very little confidence that literary education will survive its current malaise .... I do not believe that literary studies as such have a future." Bloom refuses to surrender his high esthetic standards to "the School of Resentment": the "Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists, [and] Semioticians" (like Scholes) who have allegedly destroyed all universalities of literary quality. There is no doubt that Bloom and Scholes are vexed by the current state of flux in which literary studies finds itself; but their outbursts of doubt and despair cannot conceal the grains of hope embedded in their learned entreaties to the favor and support of modern readers.
Bloom would no doubt frown upon Scholes' impulse to reveal his true identity as a textualist in an introductory and, therefore, potentially influential article such as "Canonicity and Textuality." The semiotician in Scholes cannot help but level belles lettres to the state of text through textbook-style definition: "A text is a cluster of signs or potentially signifying entities that can be connected by an act of reading to other such clusters." For the hierarchically minded canonizer, this reduction of literature ignores the special esthetic qualities that distinguish great literary works from other forms of textual discourse. With high literature thus relativized, the critical reader's project becomes "to discuss the common semiotic properties of pictures, films, plays, operas, jokes, graffiti, poems, songs, stories, speeches, advertisements, novels, essays, and other ... other what? Well, other texts of course." In the semiotician's view, poetry may as well come somewhere behind jokes and graffiti, and novels and essays can just as well bring up the rear, for the metaphor of textuality indiscriminately brings all clusters of signs out into a wide, intertextual discourse where meaning can be derived on any number of levels. Scholes underscores the intellectual heresy inherent in textuality by following Roland Barthes, his "liveliest guide," who claims that the "text" is like a "flippant person who shows his bottom to the Political Father." So the verbal artillery is fired from "the School of Resentment."
Just who is the Political Father? Scholes defines him as the canonizing Arnoldian humanist. Thanks to Northrop Frye's insight in Anatomy of Criticism (1957), critics are now aware that "literary judgements are projections of social ones." In the case of Matthew Arnold, this meant favoring aristocratic literary genres (epic and tragedy) over lower-class ones (satire and comedy) based on a particular set of moral biases. Scholes labels such acts of canonization "academic hegemony," an appropriation of literature that climaxed during the New Criticism era. Now, academicians know that a selected group of texts mediates a certain set of social values, and for critics to agree upon a single canon, they must first come to an ideological consensus. Such an act is, of course, impossible in today's culturally diverse literary academy.
By taking opposition to the New Criticism, Scholes seeks to secure the entrenchment of his own discipline within the institutional domain of literary studies. He must render traditional humanists oppressive in order to portray himself and other advocates of the post-structuralist movement as democratic thinkers. In his view, the Derridean theorists of the 70's emancipated the word "text" from the restrictive, Christian significations it had possessed since at least the early Middle Ages. Their freeing of text through egalitarian methodologies opens critical discourse up to new interpretations, including those of previously marginalized voices. While making his theoretical navigators into champions of democracy, Scholes continually runs the risk of distorting his reader's view of New Critical scholarship by making the New Critics appear simply atextual for not having professed a concept of textuality similar to the French one.
When Scholes finally reveals his own democratic bottom to the Political, or rather the Canonical Father, he calls for a complete end to canonization: "as long as we refrain from challenging the hegemony of literature itself, the essentially conservative and patriarchal processes of canonization will continue to function in much the same way [as an instrument of domination] ... we need to scrutinize critically and if possible undo the privilege we have so long granted to the notion of literature itself." This proposal clearly advocates an end to the institution of literature as we know it, beginning with the canon which has long served as the institution's backbone. One could easily understand sincere despair from traditionalists (and student-readers dreaming of careers in the profession) in response to this radical attack. Scholes' relativism aims to wrest authority from critics and teachers, turning them into "readers among readers" by thoroughly problematizing the legitimation of all literary professionalism.
On this last point Scholes cannot avoid contradiction. Toward the end of his article, he vaguely sketches conglomerate criteria for judging the intertextual reading performance that will justify one's status as literary scholar. Scholes hopes to mix "traditional interpretive virtues" with what appear to be new concepts (!), "range, creativity, and even exorbitance." What he does not explain is how he can believe this to be a reasonable goal when he himself cannot find a single standard for determining textual worth. Ultimately, Scholes' new reading act advertises the growing field of "cultural studies" (causing Mr. Bloom yet more despair) more than it constitutes a well-directed, viable literary methodology.Rick Lybeck Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 Minneapolis MN 55455
In "Feminist and Gender Studies," one of the essays collected in Introduction to Scholarship, Naomi Schor states that we as readers and teachers of literature "were taught to speak from the position of the universal, sometimes at the cost of painful mutilations and self-denials, though our professors of the universal were, with insignificantly few exceptions, white, male university professors of European ancestry who were either straight or closeted" (262). In that prefeminist era, in order to enter the academy we had to leave our "multiple subjectivities" at the door. Today, however, she claims that we now may sit at the seminar table of difference, "where various and complex subjectivities are accommodated" (262). Accordingly, she proclaims that in her article she will not speak from the "position of supposed neutrality and pseudoscientific objectivity" (263) but will instead perform the feminist act of speaking from her own subjective position. While her actual chronicle of feminist and gender studies is generally informative, her framing thesis and argument--for subjectivity, against objectivity--seem to entirely miss the point of what was so bad about the "bad 'ol days."
Schor claims that prior to 1970 all accepted opinions surrounding literature were sanctioned by white, male university professors of European ancestry who espoused a definite creed of objectivity. She seems to be saying, yet fails to acknowledge, that this body of persons was obviously not objective, but rather a highly subjective and narrow group of folks who forced us to check our subjectivities at the door essentially in favor of their own. To simultaneously claim that this group represented a clearly subjective interest group with an agenda (even if unbeknownst to themselves) and to claim that their beliefs in objectivism are to be rejected in favor of multiple subjectivities, seems to ask irresponsibly for more of the same except with various different captains at the helm.
By inviting all of these subjectivities to the table, Schor claims, our readings will be richer. Indeed there is much value in discovering and acknowledging the various viewpoints and perspectives of a spectrum of identities, "whether male, female, black, Hispanic, young, old, gay, lesbian, bisexual, Jewish or Arabic, postcolonial or metropolitan" (262). Arguably we ought to have been respecting and acknowledging these identities all along. This, however, is what objectivity and universality seek to do, and herein of course lies the rub. Objectivity and neutrality purport to be unbiased and free from prejudice of personal feeling. Granted an individual can never achieve such a position, but in the current world of recognized identities it would seem to be the ideal toward which to strive if we want to understand one another.
Although Schor argues that we ought not to privilege the objective viewpoint, it is the only one we can privilege in fairness or good faith, because it is the only one that can grant the privilege of understanding the subjectivities of others. She claims it is a pseudoscientific objectivism (alluding again to the false universality of white, male professors). If it is true that the universality these professors were striving for was not a correct one, or one not fully understood or realized, this does not mean it was not a worthy goal and that it ought to be scrapped for the unbridled subjectivity she is so proud of. She does not want white, male professors speaking for her or others, because of the "painful mutilations and self-denial" it causes, which means she ought to realize that plenty of feminists do not necessarily want her speaking for them either, although she frequently does. "This position is precisely the one we as feminists seek to interrogate and dismantle" (263). "We as feminists" happen to be a huge and diverse group, with opinions across a wide spectrum--in this probably not unlike those pre-1970 white, male professors of European ancestry.
The universality that was sought may have been a conscious subversive plot to keep feminists, gays, and minorities down or their subjectivities silenced, but more likely it was a product of its societal moment just as Schor's intense subjectivity is of this moment in history. This is not to excuse the ignorance or lack of interest in feminist and gender issues often displayed in that earlier time, but it is to point out the problem with disregarding important aspects of what universality and objectivism strive towards. Without going back to a privileging of a patriarchal agenda, we can look at things from many varied perspectives but also admit honestly that we don't always know or understand the myriad of perspectives this world affords and that therefore we can't speak for them--subjectively. Instead we must try to imagine the universal while acknowledging the obviously and inherently individual subjectivities within that larger picture.
Schor does raise the questions of where men fit into feminism and or whether masculine and feminine fit into non-patriarchal societies or only reinforce them, and she acknowledges the problem with collapsing feminism, gender, race, and class issues under a single rubric. She nonetheless continues to maintain a fierce subjectivity throughout, speaking subjectively for feminists, the French, gays and lesbians and explaining why she can. Interestingly she highlights Simone de Beauvoir instead of Virginia Woolf as the initial guardian of feminism, later pointing out that for Beauvoir subjectivity is "ideally and necessarily universal" (266). This kind of subjectivity makes a great deal more sense than the kind practiced by Schor and ought to be what she argues for, but she seems instead in her own writing and argumentation to privilege Woolf's style of the "specifically female subjectivity and textuality" (266).
Perhaps knowing all the ingredients of Schor's subjectivities has made our readings of her essay richer. Yet had we not known that she is "an American teacher of French whose postgraduate professional career developed along with feminist criticism" (263) and an ardent non-believer in the "impersonal rhetoric of both New Criticism and structuralism" (262), we still could have read her account of the problems and paths of feminist and gender studies with genuine interest. There was and still is something to be said for New Critical readings of texts, and frankly Scarlett we do not always need to know the personal backgrounds and perspectives of every individual who chooses to enter the arena of literary discussion and debate in everything they write or say. Again, it is true that much and many have been ignored or brushed aside within the history of literary study, and certainly a return to such a style of study would be a shame. On the other hand, as with any two wrongs we must take care in rectifying the situation. A move towards an unprejudiced and open-minded view of literature, its readers, and its writers seems to be most appropriate.Karamia Kurtti Gutierrez Royal Oak, Michigan
Four years ago when I started Graduate School for the first time, students in the introductory "Bibliography and Methodology" course in which I was enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill read the Modern Language Association's Introduction to Scholarship in Modern Languages and Literatures. Upon returning to Graduate School this fall and again being assigned the MLA's Introduction to Scholarship, it occurred to me, as I walked the aisles of the Minnesota Book Center collecting close to two hundred dollars' worth of assigned reading, that perhaps this was one book I didn't have to buy. But one glance at the three-quarter-inch-spine and splashy cover told me what the copyright page and table of contents confirmed: that in the intervening years the MLA had produced a new Introduction to Scholarship. While the first edition contained only six chapters, covering linguistics, textual scholarship, historical scholarship, literary criticism, and literary theory, the new edition includes over a dozen chapters, with titles like "Language, Culture, and Society," "Canonicity and Textuality," "Feminist and Gender Studies," and "'Ethnic and Minority' Studies." Other than a preface by Joseph Gibaldi, the only thing the two versions appeared to have in common was a concluding essay entitled "The Scholar in Society." But, as it happens, the two editions end with two different essays, with a common title and common theme but two quite different perspectives.
A comparison of the tables of contents of the two editions provides a thumbnail sketch of the types of changes that have occurred in the fields of modern literature and language studies in the past decade. These are exciting changes--for example, the extension of literature and language studies across disciplinary boundaries, the questioning of long-held assumptions underlying the literary canon, and the inclusion of feminist, gay, and minority critical perspectives. However, a side-by-side reading of the two essays entitled "The Scholar in Society" suggests changes of a less positive nature, changes that threaten the gains made within literature departments in recent years. Between the 1981 essay by Wayne C. Booth and the 1992 essay by Gerald Graff is a difference in outlook and in tone that makes one wonder, what has changed more in the eleven years between the publication of these two essays: the scholar or society?
Both essays address the lack of understanding that results from inadequate communication between academic humanists and society at large. Booth traces the scholar's difficulty in communicating with society to a high degree of specialization, which inevitably results in research that only a specialist can understand or appreciate. Moreover, he relates the increasing specialization within literary studies to a decreasing interest in communicating the results of research to nonspecialists (125). In the more recent essay, Graff readily admits that humanities research is often charged with overspecialization; but to Graff this is a spurious charge, based on a misunderstanding or "dislike" of the theoretical languages in which so much humanities research is now conducted (344). To Graff, "specialization" has become a buzzword, which "society" evokes in order to condemn everything it is suspicious of in humanities research: for example, the "flight from undergraduate teaching," the revision of the literary canon, and the increasing attention to feminist and minority texts (347). Graff even goes so far as to suggest that what the detractors really find objectionable is the threat to the status quo that is implicit in the questioning of such relationships as writing and sexuality, and knowledge and power (348). What emerges from the essay is a sense that the scholar's relationship to society is not one that is only distant and therefore prone to misunderstandings, as Booth would have it, but one that is fraught with suspicion, hostility, combativeness, and opposition.
As Graff recognizes, the confusion concerning the meaning of "specialization" is a symptom of the larger problem of the scholar in society: the failure of the scholar to make society aware of the value of humanities research. Graff describes two trends--one in society, one in the academy--that should facilitate this type of communication. First, he attributes to contemporary culture an active interest in what academic humanists have to say. As evidence of this high level of interest, he points to the frequent journalistic attacks on the academy as well as the spate of books addressed to a general audience that critique humanities in the universities. Alongside this increasing interest in the work of humanities scholars, Graff describes a university culture that is much less isolated from popular culture than universities traditionally have been. This is in part the result of the "legitimation" of studies of contemporary culture (350), but it is also the result of the university's role as an educational institution. He explains, "the university's growth into an institution servicing great masses of people necessarily turns it into an agency of cultural popularization" (352). According to Graff, "It is even fair to call today's university a form of popular culture, in competition with journalism and other media, as an alternative interpretation of experience" (352).
Central to Graff's discussion of "The Scholar in Society" is the paradox that even as the public has become interested in what humanitiesscholars have to say--perhaps to an unprecedented degree--and even as the humanities have begun for the first time to embrace popular culture as a legitimate focus of scholarly enquiry, there remains a "vast and disturbing gulf that still separates the discourses of humanities scholars from those of the public at large" (343). This "vast and disturbing gulf" is described later in the essay as an outright menace: "the mood has lately begun to take an angrier turn as the magnitude and costs of the humanities-research enterprise have steadily grown without a visible increase in its contribution to the public good. This anger overlays the already long-standing fear that research draws humanists away from the teaching of undergraduates" (345). In contrast to Booth's depiction of the scholar's relation to society as one that is inherently organic, if at times uneasy, Graff's presentation is of an isolated scholarly community beleaguered by the unreasonable fears and prejudices of an angry mob.
Both Booth and Graff recognize the importance of translating scholarly research to a lay audience as a means of reconciling the scholar to society. For Booth, this translation is best achieved through teaching, in the classroom and through published works: "the scholar who is paid for her scholarship must either find ways to teach its value to the world--whether the 'world' consists of students or senators--or be prepared for the day in which California's Proposition 13 will be remembered as a mere hint of the drought to come" (127). In Booth's essay, teaching is seen as an effective means of "closing the gap" because it is by definition a social act involving communication between one member of society and a larger subset of that society. Graff also sees teaching (specifically, teaching research and its "general implications") as a possible solution. But since undergraduates are only part of the academic's lay audience, Graff emphasizes the need for academic humanists to "make their debates accessible in the public sphere" (355). He urges academic humanists "to take some responsibility for controlling the way their ideas and projects are represented to a wider public" (354).
These are sensible recommendations, but surely they rest on the scholar's acceptance of an even greater responsibility: a degree of responsibility for the state of society itself. As the first step, we must abandon the unprofitable notion that scholars are somehow separate from society and accept the fact that we do have influence (notwithstanding Graff's complaint that academics "rarely have direct access to the mass media" ). Surely, before academic humanists can hope to "close the gap" in understanding between the scholar and society, we must recognize, with Booth, that, "whatever conditions we find in the world as we continue our efforts at scholarship have been to a surprising degree of our own making. In what we write, and perhaps even more in what we teach, we make the society in which we shallcontinue to remake ourselves" (140).Sarah Wadsworth Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 firstname.lastname@example.org
It is estimated that the world contains over 60,000 nuclear warheads .... The approximate cost of these weapons is 500 billion dollars a year, or 1.3. billion dollars a day. Five percent of this sum--25 billion dollars--could drastically, fundamentally alleviate the problems of the poverty-stricken Third World. Anyone who believed that literary theory was more important than such matters would no doubt be considered somewhat eccentric, but perhaps only a little less eccentric than those who consider the two topics might be somehow related.
-- Terry Eagleton
Despite what post-structuralism might assert concerning binaries and their arbitrary nature, it would be both difficult and naive to deny that one most definitely does exist between academia and "popular culture" by which I mean not only the literate masses who read literature but everyone outside the academy. In acknowledging this binary and the relative inevitability of its continued existence, however, I am in no way endorsing it. The opportunity to live a rarefied "life of the mind" should never be considered a privilege but, rather, a political and social (as well as intellectual) responsibility. That is, academics should view the luxury of their profession as a means to enact social change even if that change might at times seem minor or insignificant. Certainly, as the epigraph suggests, literary theory is not going to save millions of lives; however, it would be equally ridiculous to suggest that literature and theory have no relationship to politics. As Eagleton suggests, "as with South African sport, [politics] has always been there" (Eagleton, 194).
This politically charged will towards change, of course, has existed in one form or another for as long as there has been a field of discourse called literature and a department from which to be disseminated. Thie departmentalization and secularization of literature as an academic discipline (which, as Graff has noted in Professing Literature, dates back approximately 150 years) has experienced three major paradigm shifts (or epistemes): the pre-New Critical, the New Critical, and the post-New Critical. I have chosen this rather odd nomenclature to emphasize the point that our present theoretical condition as well as its endeavors (the post-New Critical) and the manner in which we understand critical history are informed, whether we like it or not, by the immense shadow cast by the New Critics.
As I have already intimated, all three of these epistemes attempt to negotiate the split between literary and popular cultures. All three have had to define "the social function of the academic humanities and the extent to which their values should harmonize with or challenge the values of the larger society" (Graff and Robbins, 422). What distinguishes one episteme from another, then, are the particular strategies that each utilizes: that is, how these boundaries are drawn or understood and then negotiated. These particular differences can best be understood and highlighted by describing them as metonymic, metaphoric, and synechdochic, respectively.
The first episteme, the pre-New Critical, is, as Graff points out, marked by an attention to philology and a belief that "literature was self-interpreting as long as it remained an expression of humanism" (Graff, 9). I characterize the relationship between the scholar and society, in this particular episteme, as being metonymic in that academic training, in and of itself and without any overt worldly considerations, provided students the necessary skills for social leadership. That is, the academy consisted of a series of intellectual exercises that could be made socially relevant only through an ideological abstraction. "Higher learning [was considered] good in itself" since it is only through rigorous training in such disciplines as rhetoric and philology that people could acquire "the ability to not only grasp the truth but also convince others of it" (Kucklick, 201-202).
Then critic replaced philological scholar, the critic being seen as a "quasi-religious" leader serving "as the intermediary who would interpret the new poetic religion of 'culture' to the general public" (Graff and Robbins, 423). It was not until the New Criticism that literature as a source of "meaning" was given any attention. This move towards "close reading," however, came at the cost of removing the critic so far from society as to make the relationship between the two no longer metonymic, but, instead, metaphoric. The New Critics insisted that the only context for a particular literary work was the literary tradition from which it spawned. A poem, for example, was required to have, first and foremost, an internal coherence--a conflict-free meaning that did not require any historical or social contextualization. It was, then, "through such unity, the 'work' corresponded to reality itself" (Eagleton, 47). The role of the critic, for this particular episteme, was to explicate this regularity, this organic wholeness that could then be used as a template to explain and understand the world at large. Literature was its own context, it needed no others.
As theoretically naive and politically abhorrent as many contemporary critics might consider the New Criticism, "nobody can doubt that the turn to 'close reading' at that time constituted an immense improvement over what came before" (Graff, 11). In this sense, contemporary criticism (or what I have termed post-New Criticism) owes much to the advances in literary studies pioneered by the New Critics. What the post-New Critics are reacting against, however, is the "closed reading" inherent in the New Critical methodology. When John Watkins notes that the problem with New Historicism is a lack of historicism, he is touching upon the dilemma that haunts all post-New Critical theories: the need to make both literature and literary studies relevant to society in a real and apparent form. Deconstruction, New Historicism, the new Marxism, Feminism, and Post-Colonialism all attempt to open up literature from the New Critical hermetic seal. If literature has its own context, then that context as well is open to contextualization. This will towards creating a direct link between the academy and society transforms the metaphoric relationship between the two into a synechdochic one. Literary theory has always been directly linked to socio-economic-political realities. The difference, then, is that contemporary critics are very much aware of this relationship and engage themselves within this dialectic as opposed to the New Critics, who ignored it outright.
The New Critics could dismiss politics, in part, because of the academy's relative homogeneity. Certainly, there were some women and nonprivileged males in the academy previous to the post-New Critical period, but it was believed that once these people "were admitted to the gentlemen's club ... equality would have its due. The liberal arts were concerned with knowledge, not politics" (Minnich, 190). In an era, however, when the academy has opened up ever more to these "non-traditional" students, it has had to realize that it could no longer sustain its political aloofness--that the "culture of distance" (as Graff and Robbins might suggest) was no longer theoretically tenable nor politically palatable. The various post-New Critical theories, however, have not been without their problems. As Frank Lentricchia very rightly points out in After the New Criticism, many contemporary theories which seemed to offer a great liberation from the New Critics did anything but live up to that promise. Instead, as a casual examination of the Anglo-American practice of Deconstruction might reveal, many contemporary literary theories proved to be nothing more than a New Criticism with flowery language and Continental sub-references.
All this, though, is not to disparage the direction that contemporarytheory has taken. Certainly, many theories have made great strides in opening up literature not only in the way it is taught but in how that very term is understood. There is still a great distance left, and we may never arrive at a complete opening up of literary studies, but it is, nonetheless, important that the movement towards that opening continue. As the epigraph suggests, it would be absurd to assume a direct relationship between literary theory and human suffering; however, theory can bring "leverage to bear on the body politic" (Graff, 343). We need, first, to redefine what is meant by the terms political and activism. If we define these terms narrowly, then literary theory has no relationship to society; however, if we understand politics as an issue of ideology and power (or, as Eagleton notes, "the way we organize our social lives together, and the power-relations which this involves), then literary theory, as I have suggested, has always been political. By being conscious of this, academics can become "political activists." Not necessarily the kind that march on Washington or offer testimony in front of a Congressional hearing but one that creates political change through a revolution of ideas.
The debate over the canon rages on. Examples can be seen in the plethora of workshops at conferences and conventions with nifty names like "Reloading the Canon," "Firing the Canon," or even "Canon Collisions." However, many have pointed out that all this debate over the canon and the rallying call for multiculturalism in the classroom has largely resulted in little more than the addition of a few texts like Their Eyes Were Watching God and Love Medicine to the curriculum. Despite this, the backlash against those who want to re-examine and re-define literature has been particularly strong. From education secretaries and professors emeritus at major universities the cry to Preserve-Western-Culture-as-We-(or They) Know-It has gone out like a call to arms. Meanwhile the debate about canon rages on at most college campuses--Should Milton be a required course? Do all undergraduates need to have studied the Victorian Novel? Should a student who hasn't read Moby-Dick be allowed to major in English?
Paula Gun Allen's essay, "'Border' Studies: The Intersection of Gender and Color" in Gibaldi's Introduction to Scholarship attempts to address some of these issues and questions. She points out that although many students and academics have been working for both social and canonical change since the 60s, little has really been altered. She states that although "there have been some shifts in academic offerings ... for the most part these offerings are not in traditional departments or are included only at the patronizing, cynical sufferance of the academic elite" (304). This criticism has been echoed by many other literary scholars and writers as well. Gerald Graff and William E. Cain point out that "the biggest changes have occurred at the edges of the curriculum, in the elective courses, but the bread-and-butter requirements remain much as they were a half-century ago, dominated by the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton and Austen. Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Zora Neale Hurston now appear frequently, but they supplement rather than replace the older classics" (310).
However, Allen claims that this marginality can sometimes be a strength, pointing out that women of color who are forced to live and write in the margins of main stream acceptability are consequently more connected to the "void"--an inner heart of darkness where creativity resides. This connection gives their writing a life and a passion that is lacking in much of the work done by academically accepted writers. "Ah, but our lot is passion, grief, rage and delight. Our lot is life, however that comes, in whatever guise it takes. We are alive, the living among the dead. Too bad those who see us as shadow, as void, as negation miss it all; so sad they haven't the wit to grieve their loss" (306). However, despite the advantages, marginalized writers pay a high price. Ultimately, she says, "Subversion, dissidence, and acceptance of self as marginal are processes that maim our art and deflect us from our purpose. They are enterprises that support and maintain the master, feeding his household on our energy, our attention, and our strength" (312).
Consequently, Allen suggests that more is needed than simple canon revision. Although the addition of works by women of color is important, their marginalization will continue until an entirely new way of looking at the canon is determined. She quotes Audre Lorde, who claims that "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house" (312) and suggests that we need a new criterion by which to evaluate and study literature. Without this, she says, women of color will have to continue to accept "Anglo-European critics' definitions of us and that it is at our grave peril that we accept their culture-induced attributions rather than make, shape, and live within our own" (312). Again she sees marginalization as a strength in this process, claiming that those who have been excluded from the academic elite are consequently not immersed or invested in perpetuating the status quo. She states that in "all likelihood, we will discover readily enough that our very exclusion from the old boys club works to our advantage: having never lived in the master's house, we can all the more enthusiastically build a far more suitable dwelling of our own" (313).
Unfortunately, not only does this statement seem overly optimistic, it is also downright misleading. When she claims that "we" have never lived in the master's house, she forefronts her identity as a native American woman of color--a marginalized position. However, it is difficult to accept the statement of a Berkeley professor that she has no experience living in the master's house or using the master's tools. Clearly she has had great success at both gaining employment for herself at one of the leading universities as well as writing and publishing for an academic audience that respects and listens to her work.
It is interesting to note that many of the other "marginalized" writers that she lists and speaks favorably of also share the problematic position of, on the one hand, representing a marginalized group while, on the other, being fully accepted and integrated into the academic elite. Louise Erdrich as a former professor at Dartmouth, Maxine Hong Kingston as a professor at Honolulu and Eastern Michigan Universities,Toni Morrison as a winner of the Nobel Prize and a professor at Princeton--these women of color seem to be successfully making ample room for themselves in the master's house. However, Allen and others might well argue that these writers and others like them represent a tokenistic approach to gentle canon expansion--adding a few acceptable texts like Love Medicine or Beloved to a reading list that consists mostly of the "good old boys" like Milton and Shakespeare--rather than the more radical canon reconstruction, recreation, or even removal that Allen suggests.
While Allen's call for the need to rethink and re-evaluate how we evaluate, critique, and come to value a text is persuasive, she offers no real idea of how we are to go about doing this revision. Although this is a difficult issue, and questions of pedagogy may not be foremost on her agenda, it seems to me that without at least considering some of the specifics involved she considerably weakens her argument. Other scholars have offered valuable pedagogical insights to this debate. Graff and Cain, for example, have suggested that rather than just rethinking the canon, we rethink how we teach it instead. They state that the "real issue is not which texts students will read but the ways in which they will be encouraged to read them" (310), and they go on to suggest that students be given courses that focus on the issues and conflicts surrounding canon selection and literary evaluation. They ask us to "imagine a course named Canons in Conflict ... which would take up the current challenges to the established classics from the popular media and non-western cultures. The point of such a course would be neither to discard nor to deify the traditional classics but to put them into relation with the texts and ideas now challenging them" (312).
Allen, on the other hand, offers no such specifics:
the best course is to begin anew, to examine the literary output of American writers of whatever stripe and derive critical principles based on what is actually being rendered by the true experts, the writers themselves. While we're at it, we might take a look at the real America that most of us inhabit--the one seldom approached by denizens of the hallowed (or is it hollow?) groves of academe--so we can discover what is being referenced beyond abstractions familiar to establishment types but foreign to those who live in real time. (309)
Unfortunately, this is about as specific as she gets in her suggestions for canon reconstruction, and although the idea of starting with the writers themselves and trying to connect with the world outside of academia is noble, it presents just as many problems as the current system. When she suggests that we start with the writers themselves and look at whatis informing and shaping their work, she neglects to mention what writers she has in mind, how they would be selected, or who would do the selecting. Doesn't this bring us right back to the current dilemma facing the canon? She claims that we must "take a look at the real America that most of us inhabit" without acknowledging the point that she has repeatedly made in the rest of the article--we inhabit different Americas based on such things as our individual backgrounds, race, gender, ethnicity, or class. What is this "real America" to which she refers? How does it impact the literature we read and how we evaluate it? Don't we need at least to consider that most of "real America" hasn't read a single book in the last five years?
Finally, she fails to acknowledge that if we are basing our new assessment of literary quality on the work produced by the writers themselves--those in the "real America"--then we will not be looking at the novels of Toni Morrison, Gloria Anzaldua, Toni Cade Bambara, Louise Erdrich, or others like them. The writers being read by most of "real America," including most women and men of color, are authors like Stephen King, Dean R. Kunz, Tom Clancy, and Danielle Steele. It seems unlikely that Allen is suggesting that they form the basis for evaluating and assessing academic literary quality.
In failing to give us the details of her suggestion, in neglecting to examine how we might revamp and reassess the ways we evaluate and judge literature, and in these ways creating an entirely new canon based on new criteria and a new way of looking at literature, she simply reverts to the old ways of canon adjustment: she offers us a list of books by women of color to be added or considered for future reading lists. She fails to explain how the books on this list were selected or what criteria were used to determine their quality. In fact, the only thing she says about this list is that "there are so many books--some good, some very good, some mediocre but necessary, some awful but also necessary" (315). While the bibliography that follows may indeed offer some wonderful reading, she never connects it to any real attempts to reconstruct the ways we read and evaluate literature. Instead, what we get once again is another list of writers who have been carefully subdivided and yet lumped together on the basis of their race, the same four vastly over generalized categories used by nearly everyone else--African American, Asian American, Chicana-Latina, and Native American. Somehow, I had expected and hoped for more.Holly Littlefield Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 email@example.com
To review a book, advises the MLA Style Manual, one should aim for a lofty goal: "At its best, a book review is both evaluative and informative, describing the book's contents and assessing its significance, accuracy, and cogency" (7). Under normal circumstances, writing for potential readers who might expect to see the work evaluated within the context of a refereed journal's ideological perspective, one might hope to do just that. And even the presence of the text in review will to a degree sanction, confer blessing upon, or perhaps co-opt its meaning. Typically, such reviews are not usually so much reviews as "previews," for (p)reviewers rarely can assume their readers' close familiarity with the text at hand. What follows here, however, some nine years post-publication, might then more accurately be termed a (re)view and, assuming this audience's familiarity with Gerald Graff's Professing Literature, can involve explication of what Graff concludes from his evidence--as well as interpretation of what he excludes from his scope.
Graff contends that the formation of departments of literature has been, well, willy-nilly, or, to put it more academically, atheoretical, a project that "was never thought through in all its ramifications" and so "strengthens the impression that the department has no theory." Graff cites case after case of one school of literary thought being supplanted by the next, each time the latter quickly assuming the vices of the former. The classicist is supplanted by the philologist, the philologist by the generalist, the generalist by the New Critic, the New Critic by the structuralist, the structuralist by the post-structuralist, and each succession sees the same plot, theme, and denouement. Only the characters, it seems, have been changed.
Such a history is necessarily reductive, presenting one-and-one-half century's worth of thought as a comedy of errors and foregone conclusions. Distressingly, the view of literary scholarship and teaching taken here is dim: while those whose thought is dissected are not mocked (much), it becomes difficult to view literary studies as in pursuit of truth or knowledge, rather than as merely subservient to faddishness. Graff's conclusions are that unless the current generation of theorists (who, despite their broad range of interests and agendas, are lumped together as the next most likely victims of faddish thought and institutional politics) remember the past, they--like the classicists, philologists, generalists, and New Critics before them--will be doomedto repeat it. The conclusion that "yesterday's revolutionary innovation is today's humanistic tradition" implies that today's innovation will meet with a similar sentence.
The final chapter, "Tradition versus Theory," articulates this caveat and presents Graff's model for curricular reform: that we "teach the conflicts" of literary history. Graff finds that the teaching of literature in the American university has been little more than a "curious accretion of historical conflicts it has systematically forgotten," and that these conflicts have been rendered invisible to our undergraduates by a "field-coverage principle" which allows departments to add new areas of interest without necessarily addressing them. For Graff, one solution is a "more explicitly historicized and cultural kind of literary study that would make such disagreements part of what is normally studied." This, the teaching of "the cultural text," addresses the limitations of critical disagreement by focusing on a truth Graff believes no critic would disavow: that "meaning is not an autonomous essence within the world of a text but something dependent for its comprehension on prior texts and situations."
The teaching of literature as conflicts, which Graff had advocated prior to Professing Literature, might lead one to wonder if to teach conflict implies a theory of conflict itself, or if this method is nothing more than a good pedagogical tool, one that opens up Conrad's Heart of Darkness to the contexts provided by the Norton Critical or Bedford Case Study editions. Or if this method is nothing more than, as another reviewer writes, a "dramatization" of the lack of coherence of which Graff accuses the discipline? Those questions, though, will remain unanswered until, with the benefit of hindsight, some future writer of "an institutional history" spells out for students of the twenty-first century the comedic errors of the current generational conflict: traditionalist versus theorists.
With some exceptions, the evidence Graff cites supports his conclusions about conflict and the teaching of the cultural text. But there is other evidence that might not fit that pattern so neatly, and the exclusions bespeak a regrettable elitism. In particular, the choice to exclude the study of composition and rhetoric suggests that while the study of literature is intellectually invigorating, the study of composition and rhetoric serves only to socialize students, provide necessary remediation, or generate credit-hour income. Graff deals with composition "only in passing," he writes, because others have covered that ground satisfactorily, but his word choice betrays him: while literature is a "discipline," composition is an "enterprise," a financial venture and not an intellectual one. Closer attention to scholarship in composition and rhetoric might have undone the neatness of Graff's thesis: as work in that field has helped debunk the formalist notions of text that stood at the center of New Critical thought, contemporary theorists' notions of text destabilized, decentered, or even "de-authored" might not be so easily dismissed.
Composition's is not the only exclusion of note. Graff's book would seem to perpetuate an understanding of a homogeneous humanism in postsecondary literary education. But due both to its vast size and to its heterogeneous population, American higher education has rarely been quick to conform to any pattern of uniformity. Consider the multiplication and diversification of colleges that occurred in the nineteenth century as part of a larger movement for diffusion of knowledge. For women, the separatist tradition of the east and the coeducation movements of the west may well have enabled understandings of literature other than those prevailing at elite men's institutions (although it was not until the twentieth century that feminists began to assert that a curriculum for women could be different from one for men yet not inferior to it). For blacks, some of the first institutions could do little more than offer secondary instruction in basic skills, but the philosophy of W. E. B. Du Bois suggested that the education of blacks, while it could have different focus, must be no less rigorous than that of the liberal education Du Bois himself received at Harvard. And for those liberal-arts, parochial, agricultural, vocational, teacher-training, and junior colleges that began to dot the American landscape, it is unlikely that one could ascribe to the literary studies taught within their walls the same patterns Graff has ascribed to those found within the country's elite universities.
But in review of the book, despite what one thinks of such exclusions, one must ask, do these limitations of scope render Graff's thesis inaccurate? Is the institution of professing literature indeed atheoretical? And if so, does that imply failure, or merely an inevitable chaos? Consideration of these questions raises others: How might one measure the success or failure of the franchise? By the number of programs it has generated or bachelors it has graduated? By the quantity or the quality of the scholarship it has produced? By its efficacy in establishing study of a national literature? By the measurable effects (or lack thereof) it has had on the wider culture? Most connected with the enterprise would be hesitant to term it a failure. Many who are disengaged from or disenchanted with it, including a cadre of conservative cultural critics, might describe it exactly as such. Still, by way of review, since that is the task at hand, Professing Literature is, despite its elitist omissions and unanswered questions, a "good book," one that anyone who ascribes importance to the institution of professing literature would do well to read. No matter what one's opinion of Graff, his evidence, or his book, one would dowell to note, ultimately, its message: one is the better not to forget what has gone before if one wishes to meet, in the end, a fate better than that which has been met by others.J. Paul Johnson Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455
Professing Literature is a must read for anyone even remotely concerned with the "Culture Wars" which have characterized public discussion of literary studies for the past ten years. This is especially true now, with the November 1994 elections leading to a rise in the prominence of right wing ideologies, a movement which threatens to bring renewed vigor to these debates. Graff's book, a self-proclaimed "history of academic studies in the United States, roughly from the Yale Report of 1828 ... to the waning of New Criticism in the 1960s and subsequent controversies over literary theory" (1), is more than a new history. It is a cautionary tale in which history is enlisted in order to highlight the habitually contested nature of literary studies as well as to argue that the "problem" with literary studies lies at least as much in how these contestations are institutionalized as in the contestations themselves.
As Graff tells it, this history is marked by a sequence of uneven developments, of consolidations and dissolutions--presented to us through the documents, speeches, personal journals, articles, novels, and anthologies of the times--in which conflicting groups can be seen to struggle for ideological and professional dominance in the field. It is through this struggle that the face of literary studies changed completely in the 150 years encompassed by Graff's study. The Classical philologists of the early 1800s, for whom the Greek and Latin classics were merely objects through which languages could be studied, gave way later in the century to modern language philologists whose ends were the same, but who simply exchanged English texts for the classics. These, in turn, were challenged, though not replaced, by impressionistic generalists who felt it their role to convey to students the beauty of the text. As literary study began to professionalize around the turn of the century, the German school, with its emphasis on "scientific research," justified and expanded the philologists' endeavors, and the generalists, who "defended appreciation over investigation and values over facts" (55), remained the second-class citizens of the academy. The tensions between the two groups played itself out in the rhetoric used by one against the other: the generalists portrayed the scientific investigators, or scholars, as sterile materialists and were portrayed in turn as sentimental dilettantes. In the period between the wars, many would-be generalists reconstituted themselves as critics and were able, as theGerman model of scholarship fell in estimation, to gain a foothold in scholarly respectability. Two of the modes of criticism which flourished in this period were aesthetic formalism, which searched for a "systematic philosophy of art (116), and "New Humanism," with its focus on literary and intellectual history. Both of these were precursory forms to the New Criticism that would hold sway in literary studies until well into the 1960s.
Graff's text comes alive in its extended discussion of the New Criticism. New Criticism itself, according to Graff, was not the monolithic the-text-the-whole-text-and-nothing-but-the-text critical school it has come to be seen as by later and, of course, competing critics. Rather, the New Critical school developed in two stages which Graff characterizes as first- and second-generation camps. In the first, as expressed through the works of such critics as John Crowe Ransom, the text should not and indeed could not be separated from its "moral and social significance." The critic's job was to show "how that significance became a function of the formal texture of the work itself rather than something external or superadded." This activity must be pursued in such a way that "would not entail crudely reducing poems and novels to their instrumental or doctrinal content" (148) but which would not merely silence that content. The view was challenged by critics such as R. P. Blackmur and Cleanth Brooks, who, in reaction to particular Marxist critics who did, it seems, "reduce [works] to their doctrinal content," consolidated that reaction in a criticism which took refuge in the work in itself and effectively excluded such "extrinsic" endeavors as reading a work in the context of its "moral and social significance." This view was most clearly exemplified in the works of Brooks who, in Graff's words, "chose to deny that poems could assert ideas at all" (152).
One of the strengths of Graff's history lies in its unveiling of disputes which, though they resonate strongly with current debates, are anything but new. An example can be seen in the general education movement of the 1930s and 1940s. This, according to Graff, "was a response to two kinds of fears: that because of increasing disciplinary specialization and emphasis on vocational training, knowledge was becoming fragmented, and that because of deepening conflicts of ideology, the unity of Western culture was disintegrating into a chaotic relativism" (162). These fears expressed themselves through curricular movements such as the Chicago Plan and the Harvard Redbook, which, each in its own way, attempted to ameliorate the perceived fragmentation by an imposed unification. The Chicago Plan, implemented by Robert Maynard Hutchins, president of the University of Chicago, was based on Mortimer J. Adler's idea that the Western intellectual tradition constituted "a Great Conversation among Great Thinkers in universal themes" and that by putting this Great Conversation at the center of education in the form of courses in the great books, educators could stem the demoralizing tides of modern materialism, vocationalism, specialism, departmentalism, empiricism, and relativism (163).
The Harvard Redbook, while its aims were constituted more nationalistically, developed a similar schema in its "great books philosophy," which promoted curricula based on the "Great Texts of Literature." These texts, it was thought, "would teach themselves," thereby inculcating within the student "a common knowledge and a common set of values." The belief was "that if the greatest literature is taught, the fragmentation, discontinuity, and lack of meaning of modern history can be overcome" (170, italics in text). The alarming frequency with which the word "great" appears in both of these formulations highlights their Achilles heel. It is exposed by the question "who is it who gets to decide just what constitutes 'great' as it relates to either thinkers or texts?" This question is at the very center of current discussions of whether and how to teach that contested entity known as the literary canon.
If the only thing Graff's text gave us was a close examination of previous debates through which we might read, it would be well worth a read. It constructs, after all, a "usable past," a history which we might learn from as we move into "Culture Wars II: After the Election." But the book moves a step farther, displacing the debates from their ideological ground as Graff pursues his thesis that the real weakness in literary studies resides not in the arguments that have raged for many decades, but in how those arguments are waged, in the silences and repressions which prohibit any but those most invested in the academic institution--professors and graduate students--to benefit from these arguments.
Graff locates this institutional weakness "in the field-coverage model of departmental organization, which has conceived literature departments as aggregates arranged to cover an array of historical and generic literary fields" (6). This model, Graff argues, works to compartmentalize departments of literature in such a way that members of the same department function with extreme independence. While this structure enables each member to work with very little disruption, it also makes difficult communication between members of that department, especially on such matters as the deeply held convictions of what literature should be taught and how that teaching should proceed. Thus the arguments which have animated literary studies are silenced. The real losers in this scenario, Graff feels, are the undergraduatestudents, who may pick up a small piece of the picture from Professor A and another shard from Professor B, and so on, but are not given a context which might enable them to see how ideas from both A and B relate and how, at a deep ideological level, they diverge. Graff's major goal, then, is not to argue the side of one or another critical school, but to argue for an institutional change whereby such discussions are rendered more explicitly, especially in the undergraduate classroom. It is, sadly, at this particular juncture, that Professing Literature fails.
It is, of course, always easy to use 20-20 hindsight to find fault with a text that has had several years to age, as Graff's proposals have. Roughly, Graff advises that "a department might ask itself what potential conflicts and correlations it harbors and then consider what curricular adjustments might exploit them" (251) and that the most pedagogically responsible model would "institutionalize the conflict of interpretations and overviews" (258). This call to place the conflicting debates at the center of attention in literary education without any but a cursory discussion of how this might be done must necessarily seem naive in view of the virulent rhetoric spawned within these debates in the intervening years.
What is recuperable from Graff's formulation, however, and what makes this book eminently worth reading, is the notion that a set of conflicts that are construed as being primarily ideological in nature might be better mediated at the institutional level. In a debate that has been so marked with polarization that one would be hard-put to characterize it as a "conversation" at all, it may be time to shift the venue toward something, perhaps a sort of coalition teaching, in which all sides would be responsible for contributing toward a common goal, rather than pitting their energies against each other. What remains to be done, of course, is to construct a model of coalition teaching that we might, at least provisionally, agree upon. Perhaps by using Graff's model as a stepping-off point, we can all--left, right, and center--move toward re-engaging each other by paying attention to our "usable past" and then working together toward creating a pedagogically-viable "usable present" in the classroom.Laurie Dickinson Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 firstname.lastname@example.org
On the back cover of Professing Literature the prospective reader (most probably a graduate student in English standing in an institutional bookstore) finds the sort of 'puff pieces'--glowing reviews of the work in question designed to sell the inner contents to a browser--used most often for popular commercial publishing. Since the audience of the book by now is essentially 'captive' in that it is more than likely an assigned work, the question is: what is being sold?
Even a cursory glance at the quotes affords the strong impression that this is an important book with an important message. The claims made for its position in the history of literary studies in America are very large indeed. It is a "brilliant contribution to the sociology of knowledge," as well as "extremely important ... more consequential than [Allan] Bloom's." According to Jonathan Culler (who is himself a very important figure) it is no less than "indispensable."
The graduate student/newcomer to the profession is left in no doubt as to the authority of this work and its author. This man can and does speak for the profession of literature studies in America. I point all of this out not merely to be twee but rather to identify the position which Graff is claiming for his history in relation to the profession he is describing. His argument is given a central and important situation by its initial reviewers, both on and off the back cover. Even his detractors seem to recognize implicitly this book as influential. If this is the case, then it is appropriate to hold the author to an especially high standard of responsibility.
Graff begins his book with the propositional statement that "Professing Literature is a history of academic literary studies in the United States, roughly from the Yale Report of 1828 ... to the waning of the New Criticism in the 1960's and subsequent controversies over literary theory"(1). He sets out to both chronicle and suggest corrections for the development of a dysfunctional institution. His argument revolves around the identification of a pattern of assimilation and isolation which has made it possible for U.S. literary departments to avoid dealing with and/or exploiting the conflicts of approach that have arisen as they emerged. Both the recounting of the bipolar conflict between scholars and critics under various labels (and always creating an abyss) and the call for a bridge in the form of cultural contextualization and constructive confrontation are lucid, well researched and convincing.
His aims as a historian, however, are tempered by his aim as a 'professor' to reform his institution. I think it is a weakness of the book that this leads him to focus on a fairly narrow band of history. As the opening sentence indicates, the focal point of the history is New Criticism. It is centralized temporally in the 'plot' Graff constructs of institutionalization and it is presented as the defining movement of academic literary studies in the United States.
It is part of the strength of the argument that the model of contrast and context which he calls for flows so seamlessly and logically out of the institutional patterns of isolation and the New Critical fall into introspection that he chronicles. As he puts it: "What is most promising about this model is that it places the emphasis squarely at the point where current positions divide--the issue of 'how we situate ourselves' in reference to literary texts" (262). The adage "if it seems too good to be true--it probably is" perhaps applies. The argument is so eloquent and efficient that one is left wondering if it flows out of the investigation or if the investigation flows from the premise. The narrowness of his focus (large, elite research universities) further weakens the force of his conclusions.
At the beginning of the book, Graff concedes that there should perhaps be a subtitle, "A History of English Studies"(2), but that he feels that the "essential traits" of his discoveries apply more widely. I would, in fact, argue that not only does he need a subtitle, but that that subtitle needs to be even more specific; something along the lines of "A History of New Criticism in America." The gaps in the evidence for these essential traits, even within the purview of his stated database, are simply too large.
This history seems for 258 pages out of 262 (barring a few throwaway lines on page 2) to be unaware of the very necessity of "cultural contextualization" for which it ultimately calls. The development of English departments and New Criticism is presented without comment as an exclusively male creation in male colleges located mostly on the east coast of the United States. Women and Women's colleges do not exist as agents, and the Minority colleges simply do not exist. It is only on page 259 that the 'cultural context' of women is even alluded to. Even here, it is positioned as a recent challenge to a humanist "tradition."
It is the lack of commentary on this phenomenon that is most distressing. At the outset I said that, given the authoritative position which Gerald Graff occupies, it appropriate to hold him to a high standard of responsibility as a historian. Reviewing this book from the point of view of its use in Graduate education I would say, along with its initial reviewers, that it must be read. However, I would add the caveat that it must be read very carefully.
The reasoning behind this is twofold. Firstly, as I have said, although the pattern identified and the suggestions for moving out of it are compelling, the very seamlessness of their relation is troubling, as is the narrowness of focus. Secondly, in a profession which contains significant and growing percentages of women, the presentation, without comment, of a history in which they do not exist is, dare I say, unprofessional.Tracy van der Leeuw Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 email@example.com
Although on the face of it Gerald Graff seems to promise more than he can deliver in 260 short pages, Professing Literature succinctly surveys the historical vicissitudes of literary studies in the nearly one century and a half that it covers. Graff selects representative arguments that were appealing and salient and that consequently were influential in shaping the subjects and structure of literature programs in American universities. These arguments were framed by powerful individuals in elite, assertive institutions. Many more institutions and personalities must have been involved in putting these arguments into effect, and obviously more ideas and philosophies competed for attention than are recognized in Graff's account, but we would do well to remember that in scholarship as in all areas of social endeavor, a few blaze the trail while many others are more or less enthusiastic jumpers on the wagon. Elite institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, and Duke, to name only a few, are even today associated with originating most of the ideas that largely inspire most pedagogy in most of the colleges and universities around the country.
A reviewer of Graff's book, then, may take it as a model for doing much in little space, as I must do. Graff begins with an engrossing account of the struggle for pre-eminence that modern language studies had to wage against the entrenchment of the classic languages, especially Latin and Greek. We who have grown up at a time when the study of language nearly always means learning a modern language can hardly begin to imagine a situation where such languages played a poor second fiddle to the classics. Graff makes clear that the near obliteration of Latin and Greek from the curriculum was the result of a struggle that involved pedagogical models and methods as well as subject matter.
One begins to come to terms with such a revolutionary occurrence as Graff presents evidence of the inherent tiresomeness of classical studies. By happy accident, as we discussed Graff's book, we heard corroborating evidence from a colleague, a native speaker of Greek whose experience in studying classical Greek seems to be something he wishes to forget in a hurry. All the evidence points to pedagogy as the problem: memorization and recitation seem to have been nearly ends in themselves.
Yet even these methods offer challenging food for thought when compared to today's increasingly dominant methods of lecture and discussion. Rote learning is generally regarded as a despicable method of knowledgeacquisition since it does not challenge one's mental faculties to the full. However, recitation hones the memory, a factor that I consider major in aiding ultimate learning, especially in literary studies. When one commits to memory whole passages, perhaps books, of consummate linguistic beauty and import, one is obviously bound, retrospectively, to benefit from the resulting performative experience. I am here acknowledging the persuasiveness of Hiram Corson's insistence on the virtues of the "oral reading of literature [as] the soul and sufficient form of authentic literary experience, and that mere talk about literature can easily become an obstacle to literary appreciation" (47). Although in his enthusiasm Corson virtually lost his head and organized seances at which he imagined the ghosts of Tennyson and Browning to be in attendance, his observations bear eminent relevance to a lot of what happens in literary study today. The current preponderance of theory in literary studies has meant that a student of literature spends more time talking about literature than in actually experiencing it. In this talk, moreover, arguments and counter arguments about what to do with works of literature have completely superseded concern with their meaning and relevance for readers. Graff forcefully treats this point in his representation of the arguments between the traditionalists and the theoreticians.
The major arguments in Graff's book are defined by polar stances, one of which insistently values background in literature and another for which the essence of literature lies in its aesthetic constitution. The former standpoint is generally occupied by groups that Graff variously calls investigators, philologists, researchers, scholars, and historians. Graff initially labels the latter group as critics, a single term that later encapsulates the major concerns of the New Critics. There is also a group that Graff pits against the investigators and calls the Generalists. This is a group of sophists, the literary equivalent of political demagogues, whose ability to manipulate ideas in dizzying phraseology constituted their sole strength. Generalists naturally enjoyed great popularity with their student audiences, but their influence quickly drifted away for lack of theoretical mooring. Although Graff does not say so, being the tentative commentator that he remains to the end, the Generalists left no worthwhile legacy for literary posterity.
The majority of the backgrounders, apart perhaps from the philologists, seem to have subscribed to a need for a sense of history as background to literature. This idea alone gives their example an enduring relevance to today's situation. It is small wonder, then, that after repeated efforts to organize his presentation along the axis of this basic polarity (in sections given such titles as "Intrinsic vs Extrinsic," "History as Background," "The Text Itself"), Graff winds up his project by quoting James Kincaid's proposal for something like a pedagogical exploitation of the polarity: "'We need to teach not the texts themselves but how we situate ourselvesin reference to those texts'" (262). Yet Kincaid must be aware that we cannot even begin to situate ourselves in this manner unless and until we know what those texts are saying to begin with. It would seem to be a matter of common logic to begin by reading the texts and then only later to explore the ways in which we might situate ourselves in reference to them. Yet in today's circumstances the logic is not at all simple. The increasingly popular tendency to theorize literature has created a situation in which students may be heard to talk "intelligently" about literatures that they have not even read. Nor can one be sure that all those highly sophisticated theoretical articles pouring out with a vengeance from publishers' presses represent anything like an intimate understanding of the many texts they purport to refer to. The natural journalist, with his phraseological sleight-of-hand, might do just fine in this market, it seems.
Despite my claim that theory and history have common referents, the chapter in which Graff quotes Kincaid is called not "History" but "Tradition versus Theory." I grant that more goes into what has been labeled "theory" than just history, but I also wish to assert the indispensability of history to any discussion of theory in literature. Indeed, this sense of the general importance of history pervades Professing Literature, and Graff, in his characteristically tentative way, affirms it. I would emphasize, however, that theory, whether seen as constituted by history or by any other extra-literary conceptual references, must be used only for purposes of contextualizing our experience of literature rather than being allowed to supplant literature itself.
This observation brings me to what seems the ultimate concern of Graff's project: the waning influence of the New Critics in determining the relationship between text and context in literature and the waxing influence of "Theory" itself. It seems clear that the New Critics' position was rendered untenable largely by their exclusive emphasis upon the formal aspects of literature. In his analysis of Wimsatt's and Beardsley's "The Intentional Fallacy," Graff happily discovers a saving grace in their thesis. He opines that Wimsatt and Beardsley are concerned less with exploding authorial intention than with ways in which such intention may be determined. This argument implies that intentionality itself could still be a useful lead to the semantics of a work of art as long as it can be determined without undue recourse to extraneous evidence. One is here tempted to see Joel Weinsheimer's efforts to "resuscitate" intentionality in literature ("Gadamer's Intentionalism") against the background of Graff's "saving grace" analysis of "The Intentional Fallacy," both of them being indices of the durability of New Criticism. Indeed, Graff argues that New Criticism, like earlier critical constructs, has become part of honored tradition. This position, coupled with its inherent strength as the great respecter of literature's intrinsic nature, gives New Criticism a viability that poses a continuing challenge to the largely specious poststructural theories that are today's main fad in literature.Mzenga Wanyama Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 firstname.lastname@example.org
At a large local land-grant university, the first question of a recent M. A. Qualifying Examination covering Stoker's Dracula and Henry Louis Gates's Signifying Monkey directed the tested students to "discuss the presence of mechanical writing (particularly the typewriter and the dictaphone ...) in the construction of the text" of Dracula (see Appendix). The question also instructed students to "include ... some treatment of the compulsion in the text to have everything texted and to make action wait upon texting." The purpose of this paper is not to criticize this examination, but to address issues in the academy parallel to the texting dynamic in Dracula. The parallels are pertinent to our discourse, our profession, and our futures in the academy.
At the time Stoker wrote Dracula, the typewriter and the dictaphone were new technologies. As with the medieval clock, the seventeenth-century pendulum, and the twentieth-century computer, use of these nineteenth-century machines quickly pervaded society. As Question 1A states, action in Dracula often waits until Mina has texted either relevant scientific information, or until she texts the journals, discussions, and actions of the principal (male) characters. On occasion, Mina's texts become the only available data when other texts were lost or stolen. Because Mina's text survived, the characters would proceed incrementally in their investigation, each waiting until Mina could transform the experiences into text. Dracula illustrates how a mechanical innovation becomes an indispensable part of an intellectual process. It creates its own dynamics, a linear progression from information to discussion to textual production to action, which again produces information.
Dracula's use of mechanical texting anticipates the arrival, intrusion and acceptance of the computer in the academy. There is no doubt that the computer is here permanently. This paper does not wish to argue for a neo-nostalgic, simpler time of pristine papers banged out on battered Smith-Coronas. Nor does this paper wish to argue that "electronic scholarship" is an unnecessary abomination (the benefits of a Hypertext Catullus are evident to anyone trying to identify a past, passive participle). This paper does wish to argue, however, that the arrival of the computer is not an unparalleled development, nor will it have an unprecedented impact. Although a friend of mine argued thirteen years ago in his final paper for "History of Technology" that the computer would have an impact similar to that of the clock in its organization and re-organization of time and ritual, perhaps the closest parallel impact was the rebirth of literacy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In his detailed study of literacy's "rebirth," Brian Stock analyzes how in the eleventh and twelfth centuries "an important transformation began to take place. The written did not simply supersede the oral, although that happened in large measure: a new type of interdependence also arose between the two .... [O]ral discourse effectively began to function within a universe of communications formed by texts." Stock finds that a more widespread literacy had implications extending beyond the learned discourse found in medieval courts, schools and places of textual production: "a change was brought about in the means by which one established personal identity .... And the writing down of events, the editing so to speak of experience, gave unprecedented parallels between literature and life: for, as texts informed experience, so men and women began to live texts" (p.4).
The social implications of literacy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries have many parallels with the perceived and imagined social implications of the advent of computers. Even in popular discourse, when we speak of someone being "computer illiterate," we connect computer ability with literacy itself. Yet the parallels transcend popular idiom. Internet and Gopher systems, as well as LISTSERV and even email, create narrowly defined "textual communities." According to Stock, relationships between individuals and "the wider community" were influenced by access to and knowledge of texts: "the text ... is regarded as a source of information" (88, 89). As more people became literate, they were able to elide the mediation to texts imposed by priests and other members of official authority. As a consequence, unofficial and often contentious interpretations arose. Portions of texts unstudied for years became the focus of attention. Long-forgotten or discredited exegetes became more widely read. As interpretations varied, communities adhering to one particular interpretation formed and developed. Followers of heterodox texts became, like the texts, marginalized.
Although it would be mistaken to overstate the parallels between implications of more wide-spread literacy and the implications of the computer in the academy, analogous activities are occurring and will continue to occur. Through use of email, students in 8011 created a textual community. Our discourse occurred without direct mediation by a member of official authority. Divided between participants and passive readers, the email account developed partial identities based on the email text ("the guy who wrote on technophobia," "the woman who forwarded the review," etc.). It also facilitated the unofficial reconsideration and clarification of remarks made in an oral, official setting. It created another, unofficial text and commentary on the official class.
In its creation of an unofficial commentary, email demonstrates how technological innovation helps create texts. As an article from The Economist points out, "innovation means that universities have less control over the dissemination of knowledge." Like eleventh-century priests, professors will find that texts will be explored outside the formal, official setting. Subdivisions within a group will form textual communities, removed from the classroom, and linked by email. Discourse for a class will not be limited to TTH 15:15-16:30, and the passages analyzed and conclusions drawn will not only be the ones cited in class. Interpretations will conflict with the classroom consensus, but these conflicts will occur outside the classroom. Email missives will be sent, responses sent, all generating a temporary text. Via the computer, students will have access to one another as they read, research and write. The computer, and its capacities, will be seen increasingly as the "source of information," supplanting to some extent the professor. As a result, papers will become much more dialogic. Multiple perspectives, or syntheses of perspectives done by students after they have discussed them over email, will influence the writing of theses and term papers enormously. Many products of official discourse will become dramatically more dialogic: more and more queries will be sent, comments returned, authorities contacted, and polemics repressed.
Like the dynamic Stoker finds indispensable for the destruction of an alien, the computerized dynamic will displace the traditional course. As the 8011 email has made clear, students will clarify positions, continue their argument or augment their arguments with texts cited outside class sessions. In "superfluous," traditional lecture courses, email will extend the reach of the pre- or post-class coffee: synthesis of the text and lecture will occur anytime, regardless of proximity. In both lecture and discussion classes, the classroom performance has been a moment of oral discourse functioning within a text-governed communications universe. In lecture courses, the class reads a work, The Miller's Tale. The instructor gives an oral performance in the lecture, dependent on the Chaucer and her or his own written notes. Students listen to the lecture, and create texts (papers) on the originary written text and oral lecture. The dynamic
TEXT -- LECTURE -- ANALYSIS/NEW TEXT
will be profoundly affected by electronic scholarship.
In discussion courses, discussion replaces the lecture, but it still is an oral discourse functioning within a text-governed communications universe:
TEXT -- DISCUSSION -- ANALYSIS/NEW TEXT.
In both these dynamics, the computer will cause a new element to enter. Unofficial discussion will occur after (or before) class, as the student analyzes both text and lecture, and in the creation of the paper. The official classroom consensus may become supplanted as other ideas, tempered in the unofficial discourse, take prominence over the lecture. Missives, queries, CD-ROM research will be done at the screen. The student will be physically alone, but s/he will be using written communication to connect to other students.
Students will become less dependent on the Prof. The Prof's interpretation will just be one among many. The Prof will be less a priest with superhuman abilities to transubstantiate text to meaning, and become more a resource, like the dictionary or LISTSERV. The interlinear nature of email discussions will cause the classroom to become an alternating, rather than a direct, series:
UNOFFICIAL DISCUSSION--------------------------------------- / \ \ \ TEXT-------LECTURE & DISCUSSION-------UNOFFICIAL DISCUSSION------PAPER \ / ------------------------------------------------------------
Each step will generate temporally-texted steps. Stoker's Mina demonstrates the compulsion for texting, a compulsion which anticipates twenty-first century scholarship. Action (papers) will wait more and more for "texting" (email correspondence) as electronic textual communities are created and found useful and adopted as standard practice. The compulsion to create texts will be only another example of the instinct to communicate. For the foreseeable future, email course accounts will produce more texts. Students will become identified with these texts, and multivalent interpretations will proliferate.
James Countryman University of Minnesota Department of English Minneapolis MN 55455
Department of English
University of Minnesota
M. A. Qualifying Examination
19 November 1990
Part I: Answer A or B (eighty minutes) Dracula
A. Discuss the presence and function of mechanical writing (particularly the typewriter and the dictaphone and their relationship to "natural" speech and writing) in the construction of the text. Include in your answer some treatment of the compulsion in the text to have everything texted and to make action wait upon texting.
B. Discuss the major ways Stoker figures difference in Dracula. Some possibilities are:
*echelons of culture (e.g., high and low)
Part II: Answer C or D (eighty minutes) The Signifying Monkey
C. Racism does not appear to play any part in Gates' history/literary history of black culture in America. Try to account for either the marginalization or the elision of race in Gates.
D. Discuss the way that Gates signifies on and participates in the profession and practices of literary criticism as it is conventionally understood.
Part III: Answer E or F (eighty minutes)
E. Compare and contrast the values and relationship asserted between speech/orality and writing in The Signifying Monkey and Dracula.
F. How are the tropes of reason, interpretation, and indeterminacy strategically used in The Signifying Monkey and Dracula?
Where's Waldo? Consider for a moment, Waldo. Waldo is a college sophomore, a business major. He's been putting off the required composition course simply because it was required. But although Waldo is not thrilled about the course, he is committed to attending the class and doing the homework. He knows that he needs those writing skills for his bright future in the business world. He works hard for his composition professor, but for some reason, Waldo cannot "make the grade." What is the problem?
Waldo, and hundreds of others like him (with perhaps a different color hat, or a missing shoe) are curiously absent from the chair's address of the 1994 CCCC Convention of the college composition gurus. The address by Lillian Bridwell-Bowles of the University of Minnesota attempts to redirect the course of college composition without considering the customers, the students.
Bridwell-Bowles advocates "transformation" and moving away from "old cycles." She overtly endorses diversity, but at the same time warns that we should "not get stuck at the stage of 'many' right ways of thinking and being." Subtle contradictions such as this one reveal Bridwell-Bowles' hidden agenda: to transform the way students think. In fact, she says very little about the way students write or should write, and indicates that her primary concern is that they not think in the "old cycles." The quotation from Adrienne Rich that Bridwell-Bowles refers to throughout her article illustrates her interest in changing students' thought processes: "We might hypothetically possess ourselves of every recognized technological resource on the North American continent, but as long as our language is inadequate, our vision remains formless, our thinking and feeling are still running in the old cycles, our process may be 'revolutionary,' but [it will not be] transformative." Near the end of her address, is Bridwell-Bowles' thesis, which adopts the viewpoint of Adrienne Rich: "What things are too important to lose: I put one thing on my list, and after that many other things seem less important: the opportunity to see students grow, not only on the pages of their papers, but also as individuals and as citizens of larger communities. The kind of growth that I'm talking about is the ability to imagine something different, to see things in a new way, to think outside the boundaries of the familiar." The change that Bridwell-Bowles and her colleagues among composition faculty are trying to initiate is unrelated to writing. It involves thinking, and not just gaining exposure to other perspectives orseeing things in new ways, but seeing things in a new way. The primary benefit that affirmative action plans and universities' emphasis on multiculturalism and diversity have brought to the modern college campus is pluralistic perspectives, precisely what Bridwell-Bowles would subvert by advocating a single new way of thinking. Students must be allowed to think in whatever cycles they so choose, old or new.
The credence Bridwell-Bowles gives to seeing things in a new way and to abandoning old cycles might apply to some undergraduates who come from "middle class, lily-white surroundings" as she did. In her address, she offers a long description of her academic experience, suggesting herself as a model for the average student. However, the average student in today's urban universities have backgrounds which would likely vary immensely from Bridwell-Bowles' experience. Bridwell-Bowles errs in gearing her plan of action for the future of composition to one particular type of student, the ones with "homogenized backgrounds," like she herself once was. Many of the poor, first generation college students that I taught at the University of Houston were the ones offering the new ways of thinking to the "lily-white" students. They came to college at their own expense, often working two or three jobs to support themselves. But they cared about writing because they knew they had to care; having grown up in a world where most people did not have an education, they recognized how writing skills could assist their escape from cycles of poverty. They needed no new way of thinking or seeing things.
Another dangerous emphasis of the Bridwell-Bowles address is her assertion that composition courses are not designed to train students for jobs. She seems almost envious when she says that prestigious liberal arts colleges "can sometimes avoid the immediate pressure to train students for jobs." Bridwell-Bowles also says that she wants to teach students "the power of writing to transform--writing that is not always about later, about jobs and careers." She clearly discounts this important aspect of college composition courses. Many students, like our hypothetical Waldo, consider the training for business writing the one redeeming quality of college composition courses. To ignore this assumption on the part of students is to lose a powerful tool for escorting students into better writing. When I learned that many of my composition students esteemed job skills over pure writing skills, I chose examples from business memos or letters and other types of writing within various professions. Such examples were far more successful than the essays the students read by William Raspberry, Gore Vidal, and Ellen Goodman, among others. But Bridwell-Bowles leaves the students out of her discussion, and thus finds it easier to dismiss the role of composition in training students for writing beyond the academy.
Bridwell-Bowles can ignore the training of students for writing in theirvarious careers, because for Bridwell-Bowles academic writing is the only kind of writing. Several times she refers to wanting to teach her students "academic writing." She says, "we must continue to make our classrooms vital places where students learn not only the various conventions of academic writing, but also the power of communication to change things, to transform." I'm not sure it is a good idea to teach students the "conventions of academic writing." Academic writing is usually lofty, loaded with jargon, wordy, and intentionally ambiguous. And it is dramatically different from the real world kind of writing that students are eager to learn. Even Bridwell-Bowles text is a bad model; I detected three grammar errors and two punctuation errors.
Bridwell-Bowles does make some worthwhile comments on teaching college composition; her question, "Critical theory may be helping us as academics, but is it helping our students?" is particularly insightful. And she achieves her primary objective, which is to motivate and inspire the teachers of writing in her audience. However, she does her address and her profession a great injustice by forgetting the interests and needs of the students.Suzanne Wells Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 email@example.com
This is a practical, useful, and concise guide to everything from citing references to preparing a paper to present at a conference to the steps of publication. The intended audience consists of both graduate students and those just beginning professional careers. While the advice is good, I would have appreciated specific examples or further information. Still, this article is one I will certainly keep and refer to often.
The authors not only deal with all the obvious steps of writing an article, such as the inclusion of criticism and scholarship, but also details I would never have thought of, such as including my "academic affiliation" even though I am a graduate student and not a faculty member. I also find the article encouraging, and suspect other graduate students will as well, for it breaks the daunting task of writing a journal article into manageable parts, with advice for each step of the process. The authors take their own advice and have divided the publication into numbered and titled sections, so that it is easy to find what you need.
Some of the specific pieces of advice the authors gave really rang true with me, such as the hints about choosing a title for an article. The advice given is to follow this pattern: "Something in the work(s) of someone" (8). The authors caution against using a catchy or clever title which provides no real information about the content and subject of the article. After frustrating hours spend searching in databases, I heartily agree. If all critics would follow this rule for titles it would save a great deal of time in tracking down articles that turn out to be irrelevant to the researcher's topic, and also help to prevent the accidental oversight of important articles where the only fault is an overly generic title.
Much of the advice given is short and to the point, and the divided format encourages this. Mostly this is an asset, as in the section "How to Cite References" (14). The authors simply say to use the current MLA guidelines and leave it at that, rather than trying to reproduce the entire manual. In the section on keyboarding the manuscript, a few more specifics are given, such as margins (one inch) and fonts (pica or elite) and this gives the impression these are very important details to know that MLA may or may not mention. The authors are emphatic that every page should be numbered, repeating this injunction so the reader can not fail to notice, and will always remember to do so. Section 22, on the use/avoidance of jargon, is similarly brief.
I also wish to note the understanding of the lack of funds experienced by both graduate students and journals. Where appropriate, the authors advise that academic departments may underwrite parts of the article, such as the cost of producing illustrations (16) and procuring copyright permissions (28). They also are sensitive to the tight budgets of many journals and advise the inclusion of a self-addressed, stamped envelope with all submitted manuscripts, thus saving postage for the journal and potential further embarrassment for the rejected author.
Despite the thoroughness of the authors in covering all aspects of the process of producing a journal article, I found several instances where I would have liked illustrations and examples of the authors' points. For instance, after the relatively lengthy and in-depth treatment of presenting theory in section 7, I expected a comparable section on presenting scholarship and criticism. Surely this subject deserves more than three paragraphs. I have the same criticism of section 16, "Writing Your Article from Scratch." I realize this is a difficult subject to explain, and the authors say as much, but it might have been better simply not to include this topic than to mention but not to explain it. Alteratively, they might then have pointed the reader to other, lengthier publications on this topic.
However, these are my only real criticisms, and I do understand the desire of the authors to keep the article at a readable length. It is impressive how many aspects of publishing they include, including those which are not immediately obvious, such as what happens to your article after you have sent it off to a journal, and then also what happens once your article has been accepted for publication. I find it heartening that the authors discuss this part of the process in detail, as if to say to the student, don't worry, you will eventually have a manuscript accepted by a journal, so be prepared.
Especially insightful is the information about the publication process that concerns the publisher's end, and editors. I find it helpful to know that the reason for the delay in informing me if my article is to be accepted may be that the editor is considering my article seriously and so has sent it out for review. The article also advises that galley or page proofs be sent back as soon as feasible since the publisher is on a tight schedule. (It might have been informative to state here that publishers are on such tight schedules because of the need to reserve press time well in advance, and the fact that if your article cannot go to press at the previously scheduled time, it may be necessary to wait weeks to have it printed, which can foulup the entire journal issue. This additional information would serve, I think, to make authors more understanding of the demands their publishers place on them.) The authors also include helpful hints about when it is acceptable to write or call the editor for clarification on these and other issues, and to remember that the editor wants to publish your article and will cooperate to the best of her or his abilities. In submitting manuscripts to journals, one should keep in mind that editors "do not see their chief task as being to turn down manuscripts" (18).
After discussing the process of publication, the article moves on to the topic of reworking term papers and dissertations into formats acceptable for publication. They caution strongly against the submission to journals of unrevised term papers, since editors immediately recognize them for what they are. Regular use of the suggested scenario for revision will help in deciding what material to include or delete. The advice for dissertations is similarly helpful, and the end of the section on writing conference papers also suggests using this material as a basis for a journal article. Suggestions on writing book reviews, as well as deciding whether or not to do so, is also included. The publication concludes with an appendix covering the "excellent work of Charles Bazerman, Jeanne Fahnestock and Marie Secor, and Susan Peck MacDonald on the topic of literary discourse" (30).
I find this article practical and helpful and believe it will also be encouraging to the graduate student who may hesitate to enter the world of professional publication. The authors provide a real "how-to" manual covering all aspects of the process. Despite the lack of specific examples, the advice provided by Beruvides, Behnen, and Ross can benefit all new authors, who will find this article a concise and useful guide while engaged in the processes of selecting material, writing, submitting, and publishing their own articles.Allison Veser Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 firstname.lastname@example.org
As the end of the millennium draws near, an apocalyptic fever infects a segment of the American literary community. In these final days, some scholars seem compelled to stand before the people and preach a saving gospel even as they perceive the flames starting to creep in.
The loudest and boldest voice belongs to Harold Bloom, whose monumental study, The Western Canon, defends the great works of dead white males against the Feminists, Marxists, Deconstructionists, and others whom he lumps into the "School of Resentment." In the end, however, Bloom believes that his is a futile struggle, and that "literary studies as such" do not have a future.
Edward Griffin jumps up to save American literature, as such, from its own oblivion. In the end, he strikes a note of cautious hope that is a far cry from Bloom's sense of impending doom. In his address to fellow members of the American Studies Association, "Something Else in Place of All That," Griffin first traces conceptions of American literature from Puritan beginnings to the present and then concludes by insisting that the notion of a distinctly American literature might be saved from the conflagration after all.
For Griffin, like Bloom, the redemptive process must ultimately result in a bold act of definition. For his part, Bloom identifies originality and strangeness as the qualities which define a work as canonical. He claims it is the presence of these qualities in Wordsworth's "The Ruined Cottage" which makes it timeless, and it is their absence in most works "revived or discovered by feminist and African-American literary scholars" that makes them nothing more than "period pieces." Griffin must offer up his own definitions, not in the vast expanse of Western literature, but within the context of literature produced in the United States. For his task is not to explain why a work is canonical, but to suggest why it might rightly be called "American." His definition must somehow act as a centripetal force in a time largely motivated by the powerfully divisive ideas of race, gender, ethnicity, and class. Whereas Bloom's task is essentially to divide (that is, to separate the canonical from the chaff) Griffin has given himself the seemingly impossible job of binding together the literature of a nation which is celebrating its diversity.
At this point in our history it might indeed seem logical to toss the whole notion of American literature and say, like Griffin's antagonist Christopher Clausen, that the "concept of 'national literatures' in English has outlived its usefulness," or that "English as a literary language is essentially the same in Lawrence or London, Sydney or St. Louis, New York or Nairobi." But something in Griffin's gut will not quite allow him to embrace this monolith and stand by as a notion of American literature is torched. His difficulty then comes in drawing this feeling out from the gut and transforming it into a statement of universal significance. We witness the beginnings of this difficulty as he struggles with the concept of a unified English-language literature: "All this has a kind of compelling logic to it, perhaps a pleasing symmetry, to which I find myself nodding assent. And yet, and yet ..."
And yet, is his insistence on "Americanness" nothing more than the gut feeling of a sentimental scholar? Is this feeling perhaps the symptom of a potentially dangerous impulse, the yearning for a distinctively American literature that could again create a procrustean bed which severs writers at their cultural extremities? Griffin demonstrates his awareness of this danger when he makes a show of rejecting the Huck Finn-type myth: "... I don't really find it [Americanness] in a common myth, even in the master narrative of the solitary male hero's quest for self-fulfillment through nature." This master narrative, he explains, was a child of necessity, born of the Americanists' need to demonstrate the distinctness of American literature and thus carve out their own space in the English department. The result was a hero who is a "white, young, solitary, single, radically independent, Anglo-Saxon Protestant male Lover of Nature." This "putative, but illusory, nationalism," promulgated by WASPy "English professors at Eastern schools," is now rejected in a climate of decentralization.
Though he doesn't--indeed, he can't--wholly embrace this "master narrative," Griffin cannot let it go, either. Instead, it is included when he finally does what he must do--that is, offer his presumably more inclusive definition of American literature. He suggests that the "main concerns of the American literary tradition" are encapsulated, not in any particular myth, but in the sort of "tension" apparent in Wallace Stegner's "Letter, Much too Late," to his dead mother:
While you lived your way deeper into the remote and limited place where my father's enthusiasms brought you, he felt more and more trapped in what he called 'this dirty little dung-heeled sagebrush town.'
The impulse of Stegner's rainbow-chasing father "fits neatly into our familiar, but now disreputable, master narrative," while the impulse of his mother fits into the "domestic, placed, deep and sensitive tradition whoseclaims we are now beginning to realize in our literature."
At this point one might ask: what has Griffin done but given a bride to Huck Finn? Is the "putative, but illusory, nationalism" of those WASPy, Eastern English professors any less illusory when it is wed to the deep, sensitive tradition of the frontier matron? In one sense, yes. He has taken a large step, in this one deft move, and included a female voice in a concept of American literature. But Huck Finn is still there, and his myth (as Griffin himself admits) leads to an exclusionary illusion.
This is not to take away from Griffin's formulation as a useful description of a certain American literary tradition; indeed, one senses that it would go a long way in unifying much that exists in American literature. But one also senses that it might leave out those who do not or have not been allowed to chase rainbows: "racial minorities, ethnic minorities, religious minorities, the trapped, enslaved, and dependent." For Griffin has given himself a much harder task than Bloom. He cannot, like Bloom, cut the Gordian knot and say that a canonical American work is one that exhibits the tension between the rainbow-chaser and the sensitive domestic. He must find something capable of wrapping itself round a multifaceted mass that might be called American literature. He offers another option when he claims it is the unpretentious, vulgar, yet eloquent voice which defines American literature. Again, this is undoubtedly true of a great deal of writing. But it would be interesting to see what comparisons could be drawn between Stegner's "dirty little dung-heeled sagebrush town" and an uttering of Griffin's hypothetical Harlem rapper. In the absence of such a comparison, it seems hard to believe that the "Harlem rapper" is a serious part of the formulation.
There's a poignancy to Griffin's choice of Stegner, who is above all a Westerner, as his vehicle for describing American literature. In his later years Stegner himself recognized that the American West he described in much of his work, so vast and full of possibility, was threatened; in some sense, it had already been consumed by the burgeoning cities of California and the Southwest. The boomers, gamblers, and rainbow-chasers had largely disappeared after raping large tracts of land in desperate mining or real estate ventures. "Self-fulfillment through nature" had taken a malevolent turn. Griffin's formulation says a great deal about what was American literature. If we are to try, today and in the future, to capture the main concerns of American literature, we must do more than round up the usual suspects. Griffin clearly believes that this vast nation has a soul. But, as the millennium draws to a close, we must ask: where might it have fled?Christian Aggelar University of Minnesota Department of English Minneapolis MN 55455 email@example.com
"Look, O Lord, and see how cheap I am accounted. Is it of no concern to you who pass by?"-- Lamentations 1:11-12
for Morris Bober and Frank Alpine
II saw the best grocers of my generation displaced by the A&P, coughing desperate, bankrupt, dragging milk cases through grimy streets stacking up endless bottles, minus one, gray-headed Jews peddling for twenty cents unclean ham, for fifteen cents King Oscar Norwegian Sardines to goyish workmen poor as dirt squatting in cold-water flats, calculating tomorrow's lunch in dense heads, who cheated drunken Russia of Jewish soldiers and imported themselves to America to pitiful geshefts to retail tombs who saw Weltschmerz, every schmerz in refrigerated showcases, in cardboard display signs the beer people rigged up, out front windows, into the shabby streets, who comforted diffident itching light-bulb peddlers gulping tea in thick glasses lemon-studded, bemoaning idiot sons and sons dead of extinct ear sicknesses who oiled darkly shining wooden floors to shine darkly under the dirty feet of no customers who watched gaunt Germans in German pompadours sucking on dead cigars, matching their meager toil hour for hour, dime for dime who bled beneath the heavy boots of Jew-hating holdupniks beating dimes out of empty flesh, a dime is a dime who schlepped for die anitisemitke at 6 a.m. every morning one crusty roll sliced for three cents, that the Poilisheh might have her breakfast, her Jew-pickles, three cents is three cents the price of an hour of sleep who calculated the daily take hourly biding the gaps between blessed sleep and blessed sleep, coughing up phlegm from stale cigarettes, small consolation, like Jewish newspapers adding worse news to bad who dropped gently gently into the grave a new tomb smaller than the last.IIWhat minx with cool night school manners and a fine sense of the tragic consumed their dreams of laboratories and blueprints? Helen! Desire! Ambition! Library cards and sweat shops! Firm breasts in white blouses! Pink skin in bathroom windows! Helen who seeks protection in fat books! Helen who reads Russian novels! Helen who is tormented by winter! Scratching out dead days on calendars of endless waiting! Helen who wants simply a future in love! Helen whose paycheck turns into pickles and ham, stale and waiting in refrigerated display cases! Helen who hides love-gifts in ashcans! Helen who won't grant her favors! Helen from whom men steal what she won't give what she almost gave! Helen the small-breasted and neat, bow-legged with excitement! Helen whose flower-like panties wink on her flower of an ass! Helen whose breasts are small birds in her restless brassiere! Helen who is all display! Helen whose name is America! Helen who wants a larger and better life! Helen who wants the return of her possibilities! Helen! Self-improvement! America!IIIFrank! I'm with you in the grocery where you suffer prodigiously it's a gift I'm with you in the grocery where your circumcised brain delights in your meager tomb I'm with you in the grocery where you'll never make a restaurant I'm with you in the grocery where you say your rosary to Poverty, your queen I'm with you in the grocery where it takes a certain nerve to preach to the birds I'm with you in the grocery where your timing is lousy I'm with you in the grocery where you'll never be even I'm with you in the grocery where you stole what was yours already.
I'm no poet, and I plan to keep my day job. But I wondered what would happen if Allen Ginsberg, the Jewish outlaw, turned his poetic attention toward the sufferings of a Law-abiding Jew like Morris Bober. Ginsberg's litany of complaint in Howl celebrates the transcendent sufferings and passions of the counter-culture, in ecstatic detail. Would the effect be the same, I wondered, if Ginsberg's suffering angels were fixtures of the urban mainstream, salt-of-the-earth merchants and tradesmen like Morris Bober? I suspected that Ginsberg might view the Bobers and Alpines of the world more with contemptuous pity than with compassion. Yet they suffer in their static, moral lives just as Ginsberg's angelheaded hipsters suffer in their ecstatic careenings. Could the sufferings of Malamud's poor grocers ever be made exquisite?
Central to this exercise is the matter of how Ginsberg's poetic voice, borrowed from Howl, might fashion a depressed, aching, lethargic novel into the ecstatic, decadent vision of human experience that Howl presents. One of the most striking characteristics of Howl is its expansiveness, from formal qualities such as the long, ever-growing lines to the sheer linguistic force of its volumes of images, characters, and actions. I couldn't attempt to imitate Ginsberg without multiplying Malamud's poor grocer by a thousand or a million, so that we now have myriad Jewish grocers toiling on nameless urban street corners. The Assistant, by stark contrast, occupies a contracted, confining sphere, an Eastern European shtetl transplanted to the New World and peopled with characters who find themselves out of context in modern America. In reading the novel, I squirm to escape from Malamud's drab and claustrophobic neighborhood; yet much of the language with which he equips his characters is startlingly poetic, and readily lends itself to this exercise in genre-switching.
The sensory effects of the two works operate in opposite directions. Ginsberg infuses Howl with lights, explosions, volcanoes, dynamos, needles, blood, vomit, semen, bright colors. These emblems adorn the sexual interludes of Ginsberg's angelic hipsters, marking the heightened experience engendered in pain and passion. The elements in which Malamud's characters flounder are the homelier substances of oil, bread, vinegar, milk, sardines, dusty wood, greasy coins. Malamud's restless characters are mollified by the mundane stuff of daily existence; like St. Francis building his snow-family, they compensate themselves with meager material goods. Frank jealously monitors the small store's daily take, just as Morris did, and keeps a constant tally of the meager currency as it passes from his hands to the register or from the register to his pocket. He fashions wooden flowers and other objects to give to Helen, but his efforts bring him little success. He dreams of a telephone that turns into a bunch of bananas before he can speak of something important; so entrapped is he in the struggle for the poor materials of life that he can articulate nothing of the spiritual.
Suffering beatifies as well as it damns, and it seems that the difference between the two outcomes lies in the moral orientation of the sufferer. Morris Bober suffers for the Torah because he finds it preferable to suffering for nothing, and Frank Alpine finally adopts the same etiology. Ginsberg's ecstatic hipsters endure and celebrate their fleshly mortifications for the sake of obtaining occult knowledge, as if they tapped a pipeline into the secrets of the Kaballah. In the two works, value is ultimately located at opposite poles; legalism and mysticism seem to stand forever at odds, and even if I possessed a modicum of poetic competence, I couldn't reconcile them.
Morris Bober Reads Ginsberg
My daughter the night student gives for me to read a poem. A poem I will not call it. More like one long kvetsch called "America." About the filthy words I will not speak--so much of it. There is plenty shame to hear still in my head the rotting words. And why not this poet should buy in a supermarket with his good looks all that he needs? I trusted for worse credit. But here is something. A man's worth in America this Ginsberg he understands. A dime is a dime. What is a man?Terese Lewis Department of English University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 firstname.lastname@example.org
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