Tag Archives: canonicity

The tainted history we have

Although you’ve written that the English department “actively contributes to the erasure of history,” what it really does is accurately reflect the tainted history we have—one in which straight white cis-men dominated art-making for centuries—rather than the woke history we want and fantasize about. There are few (arguably no) female poets writing in Chaucer’s time who rival Chaucer in wit, transgressiveness, texture, or psychological insight. The lack of equal opportunity was a tremendous injustice stemming from oppressive social norms, but we can’t reverse it by willing brilliant female wordsmiths into the past.

—Katy Waldman, The Canon Is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read It Anyway


Nodding unacquaintance

“When I first started teaching at NYU, I also did a class at Columbia College, and none of my students, graduate or undergraduate (and almost all the graduate students were undergraduate arts majors–and for the past 10 years Columbia has had undergraduate arts majors), none of them, at NYU or Columbia, knew what I might mean by the idealism/materialism split in Western thought. I was so alarmed that I called a philosophy teacher friend of mine to ask her if something had happened while I was off in rehearsal, if the idealism/materialism split had become passe. She responded that it had been deconstructed, of course, but it’s still useful, especially for any sort of political philosophy. By not having even a nodding acquaintance with the tradition I refer to, I submit that my students are incapable of really understanding anything written for the stage in the West, and for that matter in much of the rest of the world, just as they are incapable of reading Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, Kristeva, Judith Butler, and a huge amount of literature and poetry. They have, in essence, been excluded from some of the best their civilization has produced, and are terribly susceptible, I would submit, to the worst it has to offer.”

–Tony Kushner, “A Modest Proposal” (1998)

via The Mumpsimus

Ascension day

from The New Yorker, 10.30.2014

Playing on two tables

“A comparable oscillation is probably at work between High and Low forms, whose simultaneous existence is a well-known, if often ignored, fact of novelistic history: from the Hellenistic beginnings (divided between ‘subliterary’ and ‘idealized’ genres) through the middle ages, the seventeenth century (the BibliothèqueBleue, and aristocratic novels), eighteenth (Warner’s pair of ‘entertainment’ and ‘elevation’), nineteenth (feuilletons, railway novels—and ‘serious realism’), and twentieth century (pulp fiction—modernist experiments). Here, too, the strength of the novel is not to be found in one of the two positions, but in its rhythmical oscillation between them: the novel is not hegemonic because it makes it into High Culture (it does, yes, but it’s so desperately professorial to be awed by this fact), but for the opposite reason: it is never only in High Culture, and it can keep playing on two tables, preserving its double nature, where vulgar and refined are almost inextricable.”

—Franco Moretti, “Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History—1.” New Left Review 24 (Nov/Dec 2003): 67-93