Friday, April 04, 2008

The politics of race, gender, sexuality, etc. has become more important than the literature

At 2:35 AM, Anonymous said...
I never know quite how to engage with arguments like these ... sometimes I feel like a double agent whose true allegiance is obscure now even to himself ... On the one hand: I read and love and promote to other readers (especially to politicized, educated, alienated outsider friends who have come to reject it) literature everyone would recognize as belonging to the canon.On the other hand: I have to recognize that those same works have been used very often--subtly or with blatant force--to deny the revelance of literary production (or even the relevance of existence) by women, gays, and people of any color other than white. The ascension of theory over literature has been feuled, at bottom I believe, by the simple human desire not to be destroyed psychologically (and, of course, literarily) by the covert and forthright attacks of the culturally elite wielding the guns of Wordsworth and the cannons of Shelly and the nukes of Shakespeare. I appreciate that that hasn't been at all your experience, Bill, but I don't think we'll get to the other side of the present impasse until both sides of the discussion can admit and modify their ugly excesses. Kai in NYC
At 3:39 PM, MD said...
Great post, Bill.
At 6:33 PM, WH said...
Hey Kai, Good to read you again. I think that Shattuck nails the biggest issue by agreeing that "the canon" is always evolving in some sense or another. It's clearly more diverse than it was 100 years ago, and will be even more diverse 100 years from now. I agree that "the canon" has been sexist in the past, and has excluded people of color and/or gay and lesbian authors. But it has gone too far in the other direction I think. The politics of race, gender, sexuality, etc. has become more important than the literature -- to me, that's a problem. I think the dominance of (post-modernist) theory grew largely out of pluralist ideals, but was quickly lost in severe navel-gazing. A good idea gone wrong. However, as much as the politics of race, gender, sexuality, and so on have taken over the humanities in recent decades, it needed to happen to break the middle-aged white guy hold. If "the canon" was the thesis, and the theory/political movements were the antithesis, we now need the synthesis that brings it all together again in a more whole form. Peace, Bill

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