Is it already? I meant to write something. (I actually meant to write quite a lot.) But–well, it didn’t happen. So here are a number of updates.
About halfway through the semester, a woman in one of my English classes had expressed dissatisfaction that she wasn’t able to read a lot of the “classics” she thought she would be reading as an English major, because so much of “ethnic studies” had made a literary presence in the department.
Let’s examine the unspoken premises here: (1) “Ethnic” people can not write classics, and/or (2) Anything incorporating analysis with “ethnic awareness,” or race studies, is not as extravagant a question as the “classic” musings on the human condition. Because racism is not a human experience. Well I mean, it’s not an important one. It’s not as grand as other literary subjects, like death or the sublime.
You see, once upon a time, English and Comparative Literature were actually two different departments. The whites were separated from the coloreds and everyone was happy. Then, one dreadful day, some people who were clearly suffering from too much political correctness actually decided to combine them together, on the basis that treating comparative literature as though it isn’t mainstream just because it’s written in languages not English is completely arbitrary to the study of literature. Or at least arbitrary according to them. I mean, it’s called English literature for a reason right? Being white has nothing to do with it, just Englishness. It’s not like we ever translate Greek lit–
I have something to ask those who feel that “race” or “sex” don’t belong among the universal human experiences that are explored in literature and literature classrooms.
On what grounds?
Why are your questions about life larger than mine? Why do we have to explore the complexities of good and evil exposed by literature only on your terms, according to your human experiences? Why should I be expected to relate to your experiences as universal when you aren’t expected to relate to mine?
Why do you get to call yours universal, significant, penetrating the depths of human truths–apolitical–and accuse me of a political agenda on the assumption that–what? You are the exemplar of all humankind? That your experience of race–and trust me, you do have one despite your ardent denial–is the ultimate, that your awareness of race, under the pretense of not concerning yourself with it, as told from the perspective of the status quo is to remain unquestioned or else I am making the classroom political?
The problem isn’t that I am making you discuss race or sex when you don’t want to discuss it in literature. The problem is that I am changing the terms in which you discuss it. The truth is you were already discussing it, by default–except from your perspective, under the guise of “normality.” The truth is that before women’s studies you only had Male Studies in every class–history, biology, English, medicine was taught based on what was proven to work on male patients. The truth is that before comparative literature you already had White Literature. The truth is you were always discussing race, you were always discussing sex, and you were always discussing them as questions worthy of exploration alongside death and nature and the sublime and identity.
Why the sudden change of approach?
Do you believe English literature was truly English literature before I came along with my
intellectual honesty political correctness? That you weren’t already obsessed with race? That it was English literature, not White literature?
Why have you translated the Greeks?