WOMEN IN THE CURRICULUM
CUNY Panels: Literature
From Joan E. Hartman, "Rethinking the Discipline of Literature: Gender"
The survey surprised not only by the prominence of feminist approaches to literature but also by their dispersal among men as well as women and among older as well as younger male faculty. The year of degree figured in females faculty's committment: women who received their degrees after 1970 were most likely to acknowledge their influence than women who received their degrees before 1970: 77 percent of the former, 58 percent of the latter recognized them as influential. The year of degree figured less in male faculty's committment: 58 percent who received their degrees after 1970, 52 percent who received them before 1970 recognized them as influential. That is, over half the greying male faculty hired before 1980, whose property the English curriculum is, professed themselves influenced by feminist approaches to literature. What are these "feminist approaches"? And how do they manifest themselves in the English curriculum?
However, the survey indicates that the traditional consensus does not perceive understanding the influence of race, class, and gender on literature and interpretation as incompatible with understanding the enduring values and ideas of Western civilization. Among instructors concerned that their students understand its values and ideas, 58 percent chose as another goal understanding race, class, and gender; among instructors not particularly concerned with understanding its values and ideas, 66 percent chose as another goal understanding race, class, and gender--a not significantly higher percentage. (I suspect that the traditionalists who find them compatible inflect literature more emphatically than interpretation while the postmodernists who find them incompatible inflect interpretation more emphatically than literature.) Traditionalists probably save the eternal verities of literature by acknowledging failure to extend them to persons of color, persons without status, and persons of female gender and suspect sexualities. Sensitive to the predominance in their classes of persons of female gender, they have undoubtedly curbed their fondness for clubby masculinist jokes about the war between the sexes, carpe diem ploys for seduction, and Eve's diminished rationality and sexpot cuteness. I don't mean to write off such changes in the pedagogy of traditionalist colleagues as insignificant. But they are palliative, intended to preserve the English curriculum rather than to enlarge it and alter our readings of it. From Daisy Cocca de Filippis, "Latin American Literature"
Almost two decades have passed since the first gathering of hispanistas and writers from Latin America took place at Carnegie Mellon. Since then many conferences have taken place both within the United States and throughout the Caribbean and Central and South America. There is now a substantial bibliography of new editions of works by women already considered classics--Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Gabriela Mistral, Teresa de la Parra, and Maria Luisa Bombal, to name only a few. There is also a growing number of monographs on the works of younger, contemporary women writers such as Isabel Allende, Rosario Ferre, and Luisa Valenzuela, among others. The number of anthologies of women writers is also impressive, such as Sara Sefchovich's Mujeres en espejo, Celia Correa's Anthology of Short Stories Written of Latin American Women and Carmen Esteves and Lizabeth Paravisini's Green Cane and Flotsam: Short Stories by Caribbean Women. The number of collections of critical writings about and by Latin American women writers is also on the rise with publications such as La sarten porel mengo or Hernan Vidal's voluminous Cultural and Historical Grounding for Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Feminist Literary Criticism of 1989, and many others not mentioned for fear of turning this presentation into an enumeration of titles, easily available in any research library. From Steven F. Kruger, "Medieval Studies"
Feminist work has pushed us to look for and find women writers who have been ignored, lost, or denied: the women troubadours (see Meg Bogin's The Women Troubadours, 1980), Marie de France, Heloise, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Catherine of Siena, Marguerite Porete, Hadewijch, of Brabant, Christine de Pisan (for a collection of some of this material, see Katharina M. Wilson's Medieval Women Writers, 1994). We find such writers sometimes expressing and extending male literary and religious traditions, sometimes rewriting and challenging them, sometimes, as with Christine, actively attempting to build a "City of Ladies" outside and in opposition to male antifeminist traditions. And both feminism and lesbian and gay studies push us to rethink the canonical (male) works of medieval tradition (for one feminist rethinking of Chaucer, see Carolyn Dinshaw's Chaucer's Sexual Poetics, 1989): in what ways do these exclude women's experience? How are women's positions voiced by these authors, and what do such voicings suggest about women's power and powerlessness in medieval society? How does the representation of masculinity (in Chaucer or Dante or Cretien) depend on a particular view of the feminine? How is the centrality of heterosexuality maintained through particular representations of men, of women, of the interactions between men and women, and of the homosocial interactions of men with men and women with women? From Sally O'Driscoll, "Eighteenth-Century Studies"
The tension between "queer" and "lesbian" is manifested in the terminology: these terms indicate very different approaches to the material. "Queer" took on its current meaning very recently, and was reclaimed deliberately from perjorative use. Theoretically, it recreates an eighteenth-century sexual context, in which the "rich stew" of sexual possibilities did not, when practiced, necessarily define the entire identity of the practitioner. You don't hear anyone in 1820 having "algolagniast" as their primary identificatory label, for example, the way "gay" functions now. So the very use of the term queer denotes a breaking down of rigid definitions, a return to that earlier state, not an attempt to define. The term lesbian on the other hand, was coined in the late nineteenth century, along with the term "male homosexuality," as an attempt to apply scientific objectivity to a particular sexual practice that until then had been, like those other parts of the "rich stew," simply there. It was a repressive and limited term, and attempts to redefine it have bogged down in hair-splitting about practice, not theory. Are you a lesbian if you sometimes sleep with men, for example? Despite attempts at liberation such as Adrienne Rich's "lesbian continuum," lesbian is a term that still engenders rigid definition, rather than breaking it down. From Amy Ling, "The Impact of Asian-American Literature"
But more important than the inclusion of one or two texts or authors, I want to see a transformation of attitude. I want everyone who professes a knowledge and love of literature to recognize that theirs is but one perspective not THE perspective or, worse yet, the TRUTH, the BEAUTY, and the LIGHT. I want everyone to be sensitive to hegemonic attitudes in the texts they are teaching and in themselves, and to infuse into every period and every major author's course, textual evidence or at least an interpretive stance that recognizes that the world, including England and the United States, is and always will be an arena of multiple races, genders, and classes.
From Barbara J. Webb, "Caribbean Literature"
The literature of the English-speaking Caribbean reflects the heterogeneity of its people and its culture. It is a literature that often combines old and new literary forms, the oral and the written, social realism, and mythic vision. It therefore does not easily fit into traditional classifications of literary movements or form. Like African-American literature, it is situated both inside and outside of Western history and culture. This dual perspective, more often than not, has resulted in an ongoing process of revision, challenging Western notions of history, culture, and writing--including modernist and postmodernist critiques based on Western history and cultural values. The redefinitions of self that are so central to Caribbean literature involve not only self-affirmation but also self-critical perspectives, which are especially important given the difficult challenges of postcolonial or neocolonial realities.