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November 16, 1989 - Image 5

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1989-11-16

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The Michigan Daily
th

ARTS
Thursday, November 16, 1989
American

Page 5

WI
BY MIKE FISCHER
THE best American novelists have
found that in the very freedom of
romance from the conditions of,
actuality there are certain potential
virtues of the mind... the very ab-
stractions and profundity of ro-
mance allow it to formulate moral
truths of universal validity...
--Richard Chase, The
American Novel and its Tradition
I came to graduate school four
a years ago to study American litera-

lat is
the history of a select group of white
men and a few white women, most
of them either from or heavily influ-
enced by a New England literary tra-
dition marked by privilege and
power. From its lofty heights, this
tradition and the literary critics who
pay it homage claim to define what
is universal about a nation com-
prised of many peoples and cultures.
In .similar fashion, U.S. history is
riddled with the ruins of peoples and
cultures whose labor built this coun-
try and whose voices - when they
would not conform to Northern Eu-
ropean ideas about tradition and his-
tory, politics and production - were
silenced.
My first American literature
course at the University, taught by
the current chair of our department,

literature?

was a survey of 11 novels or short
story collections, ten by white men,
one by a very rich white woman.
My professor, an excellent teacher
and good scholar, did not con-
sciously design his class to be so
exclusive. But he did accept a defini-
tion of American literature - one
that he readily admitted was influ-
enced by the Richard Chase book
from which I quote above - that
left him literally incapable of seeing
what a circumscribed definition he
had of the American tradition that he
was teaching.
Poetry
Forgive me for helping you under-
stand
you're not made of words alone.
-Roque Dalton, "El Salvador"

How many classes purporting to
teach American literature focus on
the works of Latinos and Native
Americans, Asian Americans and
African Americans? Why is it that
the rich literary traditions of these
cultures - when the English or
American Culture major encounters
them at all - usually enter the cur-
riculum through the back door?
Reading Ralph Ellison's The Invisi-
ble Man or N. Scott Momaday's
House Made of Dawn as part of an
otherwise all-white syllabus hardly
does either novel - or their respec-
tive contexts - justice.
It is not enough to include a Chi-
cano novel here, an Asian American
novel there, consequently forcing
these and other texts to conform to

the same old American standards and
patterns - with their "universals"
and "eternal truths" - against which
such novels are consciously re-
belling. Like assimilationist myths
such as the "American melting pot"
and the "Michigan Mandate," these
token inclusions of communities of
color are constructed on the condi-
tion that those peoples sacrifice what
makes them distinct if they wish to
be included at the table and eat of the
feast.
To change the way American lit-
erature is taught, then, we will need
to do more than add a few authors
here, a course or two there, and a re-
quirement that English majors take
at least one course focusing on
women or people of color. All of

these are steps in the right direction,
but they have also taken place in a
context where the old assumptions
about what constitutes "good" litera-
ture - or what questions about that
literature are worth asking - remain
largely unchanged.
Poetry, as Dalton argues, con-
cerns more than the words or their
particular arrangement. It is also a
political question about what those
words do and who they are for. Why
do we automatically assume that an
Emily Dickinson, writing abstruse
poems on rather abstract issues for a
select audience, is any more
"American" - or any more deserv-
ing of being taught - than a great
Chicana poet like Lorna Dee Cer-
See LITERATURE, page 8

See LITERATURE, page 8

ture - to learn about the power of
;evil and the meaning of blackness,
the pioneer spirit and our Calvinist
heritage, American exceptionalism
and its quest for adventure.
I wasn't disappointed. In a series
of courses with some very gifted and
dedicated professors here, I traced
Young Goodman Brown's journey
into hell and Captain Ahab's journey
into madness. I accompanied Huck
,Finn as he lit out for the territories
and I meditated with Thoreau amidst
the solitude of Walden. I read scores
of essays about the uniquely Ameri-
can tension between the self and so-
ciety. And I simultaneously ignored
hundreds of questions, thousands of
authors, and millions of people
whose experiences and cultures form
an integral part of what we presume
,to designate the American experi-
ence.
American Literature - as it has
traditionally been taught here at the
u University and as it is taught
throughout the United States - is
Hair Styling with
a Flair
- 7 Barber Stylists
for MEN & WOMEN
- NO WAITING!!
DASCOLA STYLISTS
Opposite Jacobson's
668-9329

Starved For New Sounds, Hundreds Swarm to Record Town!

"i AII FR' ,0 A state of emergency has been declared at a local university as
students are flooding in masses to Record Town. "The campus is like a morgue" said one
faculty member, "Even the bars are empty." School officials are citing "mysterious music" as
the blame for this movement and a special task force has been set up to combat the problem.

MELISSA ETHmERIDE
BRAVE AND CRAZY
- -

TEARS FOR FEARS
THE SEEDS OF LOVE
FEAURNG SOWNGTHE SEEDS OF LOVE
"WOMANIN CHANS"AND
ADVICEFORTHEYOUNGATHEART"
F A.
'Y"il

In charge of the task force is head librarian
Melvin Lipschitz, who offered this theory:
"The music in question is obviously the work
of either a satanic cult or some third world
terrorist organization whose goal is to brain-
wash our kids into blindly revolting against
their parents, the school, the government, and
America." Sophomore Ron Owens replied,
"I'm just sick of my old tapes." The music that
is causing such controversy is pictured here

IEDREhI

and Record Town has
The sale is going on u
that time officials areI
will return to normal,
concentrate their effo
vampire sightings tha
reported all over camp

it on sale for just $5.99 on cassette and just $10.99 on compact disc.
ntil 11/19. After BIG SAVINGS ON THESE PICTURED TITLES
hoping things
so they can
rts on the
t are being
)us. a $n99

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
MOTHER'S MILK
CONTAINS
Knock Me Down
Higher Ground *"Taste The Pam
COSMIC THING
the B-52's

n

e . ;

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