Cultural Difference and the Literary Text

Cultural Difference and the Literary Text

Pluralism and the Limits of Authenticity in North American Literature


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1997
200 pages
Paper: 
$21.00
087745566X
9780877455660

“This exciting book on multicultural matters gives evidence of a new American studies that has worked its way through poststructuralism and the subsequent postnational and postcolonial debates and reached a position that is comparatist in both the transethnic and the transnational sense. It is sanely aware that in a culture of diversity the question of ethnic 'identity' is a matter of constantly (re)crossing and (re)drawing boundaries, and that 'authenticity' (much as it many be craved) is always culturally constructed.”—Heinz Ickstadt, John F. Kennedy-Institut für Nordamerikastudien

“A great collection because it has learned from the warning call of one of the strongest voices now at full career—Werner Sollors, who in turn gracefully adopts an 'avuncular' perspective—while also avoiding the pitfalls of the overcorrection that characterizes much of what we are now seeing at conferences and in journals. Cultural Difference and the Literary Text keeps conflict within and between ethnic cultures in full view, and it does so not only within individual essays but in the dissent among them. The essays and their constellations are wonderfully engaging.”—Thomas J. Ferraro, Duke University

“Finally! A group of literary critics who understand the historical necessity that has brought race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality to the center of literary studies but who also understand the problematic consequences of organic concepts of identity that erase history and society, genres and generations, themes and motifs. Cultural Difference and the Literary Text should be required reading for every literary and cultural critic. It warns us that when we adopt identity without history we give race, gender, and ethnicity up to nature. We reproduce a conception that, historically, has equated 'minority' with 'nature' and 'nature' with 'inferiority.' We reproduce the way the hegemonic culture has always conceptualized minorities, subaltern groups, the 'other.' These intelligent and clear essays range across a wide spectrum of American literature, authors, and texts.”—Carla Cappetti, CCNY-CUNY

“Taken together, the essays in Cultural Difference and the Literary Text provide a valuable resource for readers seeking insight into the interplay of ethnicity and gender in contemporary American literature and culture. The volume is consistently well-argued and valuable for suggesting further lines of inquiry, and scholars should read these essays with great interest.”—English

This dynamic, open-minded collection of essays responds to the issues raised by Werner Sollors when he argues against the rigidity of cultural pluralism, against the ethnic group-by-group segregation of American literature. Instead he calls for an openly transethinic recognition of cross-cultural interplays and connections among all so-called groups and their canons. In enthusiastic response to such issues, the contributors explore a variety of approaches to pluralism, multiculturalism, group identity, and the problematics of authenticity in literary texts and criticism both historically and currently.

The scholars in this civil, persuasive volume are at home in an international world that crosses linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries. They thus transcend the customary restrictions of earlier, relatively isolationist scholarship to form new, nonpolemical links among cultural identities. This relationship between oral modes of communal identity and writing in tribal cultures joins an examination of Houston Baker's discursive strategies. A consideration of ethnic humor in the writings of Zora Neale Hurston and Jerre Mangione and a discussion of Jean Toomer's racial persona offer striking contextualizations. Two contributors study discursive constructions of mestizaje in Chicano/a texts, followed by essays on cultural difference in Faulkner's Light in August and Roth's Call It Sleep. Finally, Werner Sollers's essay extends the interactions among all these energetic, nonjudgmental dialogues.

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