Date: Tue, 8 Nov 1994 09:26:52 -0500
Subject: JRNL: Organizing Anthologies
Apropos Marcus Smith's query about organizational formats for anthologies: for obvious reasons, this is a subject dear to me heart. We talked about it at some length when we originally put the Heath together. It seemed clear to us that it would be hard to market a book which altogether tossed out chronology. Moreover, within a generally chronological framework, certain more or less thematic foci seemed likely to appeal to literary folks, others not. So we were willing to organize some texts on the basis of genre, others on the basis of the "self," and the like. But some organizational formats brought us right to the edge of what we feared would be seen as an "American Studies" approach--a fatal malady for earlier anthgologies. So we were nervous about sections which focused on social and political issues.
Such considerations were, of course, altogether pragmatic. But there were also--at least for many on the editorial board--theoretical considerations. For me, at least, the major one was, precisely, intertextuality, which operates along at least two parameters. The one usually paid attention to by literary folks is perhaps best illustrated by THE WASTE LAND. But I've become increasingly interested in the one involving the cultural and social debates participated in by texts in a given historical moment. We tried to bring together works which, or so it seemed to us, were speaking to (or at) one another in their own world--and perhaps in ours as well.
As those of you who know the Heath probably have seen, the revisions we did for the second edition were on the whole in the direction of historicizing the texts we used. So we moved in the Contemporary section from a generic organization (fiction, drama, poetry--boring) to three historically-oriented sections, having to do with Cold-War culture, 60's diversification, and pomo. Of course, any historical narratives of this sort are constructs and in some measure misleading. But it seems to me more interesting to challenge such constructs than to surrender history in a frenzy of postmodernist scepticism.
Where I come out at this writing is that historicizing, looking at the cultural work texts are doing, in class and in anthologies may not be perfect, but it's far ahead of whatever is second.
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Date: Wed, 9 Nov 1994 07:59:11 -0500
Subject: JRNL: Form, Language, Ideology (cont.)
Curious. It's difficult for me to imagine my attraction to literature as value free. It just doesn't seem possible. Music also seems to me to be in the same boat. Why would you consider its appreciation, it's performance, or its making as value free? My composer friends think very much of their position among others' music and in historical contexts--think, that is, of themselves and their work this way. It doesn't seem to me to be problematic either. The gift of critical studies might be, then, the occasion to understand and contextualize the values of literature and my attraction to certain works. An attraction that shifts and ebbs, I think, as I do, my "I," being of course, a willful self and a composed rather than monolothic one. The dark side of critical studies, as I've seen it, is the degradation of the values of the others, the others outside, that is, the circle of the ones does the critical studies or outside the circle of the political correct. This raises, I think, a question of ethics and morality. Can all values be just values, and one then would be equally curious about them as, for example, Lao Tzu might have thought in the TAO? We are in western ways very much, it seems to me and others, of course, caught in the dichotomies of good/bad, values/no values, the gift of Aristotle's "A/Not-A." It is possible, though, to hold sets of values sacred, so to speak, and allow for variations, a kind of fractal logic as Deleuze and Guattari argue. The variations, contextualized, caan subsume the dichotomies. This might be another way to think about values, then. And that thinking machine could encompass literature, music, and so on as that which is composed within and with values, historically situated, and re-valued, so to speak, why recreated by readers and listeners in other historical situations, and each recreation is a fractal, a variation within a context different from other recreations. If this seems useful to you, I would recommend Deleuze and Guattar's works and R.D. Laing's THE SELF and OTHERS and THE POLITICS of EXPERIENCE. He is not very poppular but in his work you can see the kernels of Foucult and D&G. Few people realize that he was the editor of the series that published Foucault's the ARCHEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE, and was as the fractal people would say, a peak in the field of valleys.
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>From: IN%"firstname.lastname@example.org" "Cristina Ruotolo (GD 1996)"
>Subj: RE: JRNL: Form, Language, Ideology (cont)
Thanks for the thoughtful response; you ask a whole bunch of questions in terms that make good sense to me. And I fear that their depth would lead any answers I might venture toward those places where language seems to lose it. Of course, that's never stopped an English student from talking, so...
You start by wondering
>what is the ultimate goal of my teaching and work: to understand the
>literary text better, or to understand the historical moment better?
and I think too many of us in the lit biz don't demand of ourselves a pretty good answer to this question. I'd surely agree that these two attempts at understanding are interconnected, but I'm not sure that all literature is necessarily best understood by trying to understand its historical context. Some books taste a lot better to me when I find out more of the flavor of the world from which my nifty little Penguin edition plucked them. Some--and to be honest, I think I like these better--do awfully well on their own.
And while I agree with the absolute truth of your point that
>any writer, even one as
>isolated as Dickinson, simply by using language (or fully and
>extremely inhabiting the domestic sphere to which, as a woman, Dickinson
>was assigned by her social world) engages in some way
>with the constellation of values and ideolgy of the surrounding social
>world (and ours)
I'm not sure that I find this a particularly "usable" truth. That is, I'm more impressed, convinced, and turned on by the possibilities of imaginative self-transcendence than by the inescapability of my historical/personal situation.
In my own experience (and this is the incommunicable basis of my whole argument) I've been overwhelmed over and over by texts that have nothing to do with who where and when I am--and this overwhelming is why I started teaching literature, what I think makes it so extraordinary (and different, in an important way, from the other subjects we teach and are taught). If it's true that Both our individual freedom and our historical/social/cultural/racial/class and gender-based limitation are facts, than it seems to me to be up to individual readers/critics/teachers to choose which of these facts they want to make the more significant aspect of the reality they live and work in. (I know this choice is supposed to be loaded with all sorts of political implications--e.g. my Naive Humanism is a cheerful oppression that pretends that all sorts of bad history didn't happen and isn't happening--but I'm not sure I'm convinced.)
I'm afraid I may not have answered your question--
>I'm curious how you (Dan) or others would describe or
>account for your own "fascination" with texts in terms that don't somehow
>encode a historically resonant set of values.
Maybe I'm most trying to question the very scary trend I've seen among my grad student colleagues to look back, half-wistfully and half-scornfully, on the time they used to read lit because it was Fun. As lit teachers, I think we ought to keep wondering about what that pleasure is, and what it might hide, but if we conclude that any Love we may have for Lit is no better than a symptom of our historical condition (that ought to be treated if it can't be prevented), I fear we'll disconnect from the very good reason many of us chose to teach lit rather than something else, and be unable to teach toward that peculiarly literary passion that animates those students who most want to be in our English classes.
(A little too?) sincerely,
P.S. Music sounds like a fascinating (!) way into these questions of context and value, esp given, e.g. Valery's, claims about how it's made from stuff that you couldn't possibly trip over walking to the supermarket.
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This page was prepared by Audrey Mickahail at the Center for Electronic Projects in American Culture Studies (CEPACS), housed at Georgetown University, under the direction of Randy Bass, Department of English.