Guide to Week 11: Thursday
Read Fetterly's book chapter carefully until you are sure you understand what she is saying. Keep in mind that Baym was writing about how Feminist theory can reshape reading of a whole range of literature, what we might call the "canon" of American literature, whereas Fetterly is using interpretations of a specific text to ground a generalization about what Feminist methods can show us about this type of text. When you think you understand Fetterly, click here for a web page containing key concepts and terms of art from Feminist criticism and see if you can explain their meaning and use. Class discussion will begin with a review of these concepts and terms, and if we have time, we can explore additional issues, perhaps including those below. Click here for some tips about how to use the "Concepts and Terms" page and how this "Working With" relates to "Working With Reader-Response," and how your increasing theoretical and critical subtlety affects this assignment.
Fetterly proposes a novel concept, "emasculation," to explain the dislocated feeling which alert women readers will detect when narrators or other authorial devices address them as if they were males. How would Reader-Response theory explain what happens in this moment, and what might a critic like Mailloux say about its significance? Can one be both a R-R and a Feminist critic? Are these theories compatible?
If women readers must adopt the imaginary "phallus" of male perspective to read "masculinist" texts, what might non-aristocratic readers have to adopt in order to read courtly literature from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, works which presumed all readers were members of the court elite? Think about how this relates to Marxist criticism's discourse about varieties of "consciousness." Are there literatures written in Modern English which similarly depend upon class-based assumptions about their readers? Consider the famous two sentence debate between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway: Fitzgerald--"The rich are different from you and me."; Hemingway--"Yes, they have more money." How might that affect readings of The Great Gatsby?
Before we leave Baym's discussion of canon-formation in the American Literature business, think about how you would run this show, by which I mean "English and American Literature." Think about the past as an indicator of the future. If English Literature continues to grow more and more works and authors, their advocates are going to want to put some of them in the canon (i.e., in the Norton, Oxford, Blackwell, and other anthologies). From there, they will be used to teach future generations of English majors what "literature" is. How can we decide which works belong in the canon and which we can do without? See Baym's tests of "canonicity" on the second page of "Melodramas." Do her tests make sense, and if so, how would they shape the current crop of candidates for admission to the canon? What other tests do you know of or can you invent to tell us what works of literature should be in the canonical anthologies?
Fetterly's 1978 article re-introduces us to New Criticism's claims that "literature speaks universal truths from which all the merely personal, the purely subjective, has been burned away or at least transformed through the medium of art into the representative" (xi). This claim she calls a "pretense," a false justification for a canon-test that asks questions that can be answered properly only by literature written by and for men: "American literature is male" (xii). Since 1978, the canon has expanded to include more female authors and more works centered on female subjectivity of their narrative point of view, but look at the reading lists of the courses you have taken. Have you been trained to read from a male point of view? I really do not know. But I suspect the forces acting upon those of you who are headed to graduate study in English may be profoundly "masculinist."
"The personal is the political." Carol Hanisch, Feminist Revolution, March 1969, 204-5.
Do you want to test your ability to use Feminist criticism's methods and theory when interpreting text?