Michigan Heroes Essay
For three hundred years black Americans insisted that “race” was no usefully distinguishing factor in human relationships.During those same three centuries every academic discipline, including theology, history, and natural science, insisted “race” was the determining factor in human development.The male part of the whitemale equation is already deeply engaged, and no one believes the body of literature and its criticism will ever again be what it was in 1965: the protected preserve of the thoughts and works and analytical strategies of whitemen.
I planned to call this paper “Canon Fodder,” because the terms put me in mind of a kind of trained muscular response that appears to be on display in some areas of the recent canon debate.
In pursuit of that goal, it will suit my purposes to contextualize the route canon debates have taken in Western literary criticism.
I do not believe this current anxiety can be attributed solely to the routine, even cyclical arguments within literary communities reflecting unpredictable yet inevitable shifts in taste, relevance or perception.
Nor is this detectable academic sleeplessness the consequence of a much more radical shift, such as the mid-nineteenth century one heralding the authenticity of American literature itself.
Or an even earlier upheaval – receding now into the distant past – in which theology and thereby Latin, was displaced for the equally rigorous study of the classics and Greek to be followed by what was considered a strangely arrogant and upstart proposal: that English literature was a suitable course of study for an aristocratic education, and not simply morally instructive fodder designed for the working classes.