Canon Issues and Class Contexts: Teaching American Literature from a Market Perspective

By Casey, Janet Galligani | Radical Teacher, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Canon Issues and Class Contexts: Teaching American Literature from a Market Perspective


Casey, Janet Galligani, Radical Teacher


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

How do we make class issues relevant for literature students in a way that is not just about what is inside a text, and thus conveniently distanced from their own lives and influences and choices? This question has long troubled me, especially since I teach at a selective liberal arts college, Skidmore, where the majority of students--the children of educated parents from relatively affluent communities, with an established interest in the arts--would be considered privileged. While these students are eager to study literature and earnest in their desire to consider texts that focus on socioeconomic conditions different from their own, they too often seem safely removed from any of the class tensions represented. How might I engage their class positions more fully within the parameters of a literary studies course?

As one response to this problem, I have developed an advanced course, titled Literature, Class, and Culture, which not only showcases class-oriented texts but also pays particular attention to class-inflected aspects of literary history, especially the politics of production and dissemination. Guiding questions in the course description indicate that the term class will have multiple valences:

   To what extent do class dynamics shape
   not only individual literary works, but
   also the ways in which those works
   are received and promoted? How did
   the novel come to be associated with
   the middle class, and how has it been
   seen by some as advancing bourgeois
   interests? What practical and theoretical
   problems arise in the creation of a
   working-class literature? How has the
   notion of canonicity hinged on implicit
   and explicit attitudes toward class?

Especially provocative to students, however, is the course emphasis on how texts are situated within the bookselling and critical establishments, wherein writers, publishers, critics, advertising executives, and academics participate in a complex negotiation of literary stratification that often emerges from or resonates with class attitudes and aspirations. This frame of reference broadens students' perceptions of how class as a socio-cultural phenomenon manifests itself in the literary arena. It also surprises and challenges them in its departure from the typical undergraduate English course, which privileges the internal dynamics of texts. One student wrote in an end-of-semester reflection, "I never would have thought to look at literature from this [outside] direction." Others suggested that the course not only made them "see class issues everywhere," but also redefined their notions of what literary studies itself might mean.

The course focuses particularly on the early twentieth century, when emerging readerships (notably the expansion of middle-class literacy) altered the status of books in the cultural mindset, provoked new interest in class themes as a topic for literature, and lent fresh energy and urgency to the bookselling industry. Through analyzing the critical and promotional environments within which texts were framed, the course helps students see the literary field as fluid rather than fixed, shaped in part by socioeconomic forces that may have little to do with literariness. And these issues have relevance for their own learning: on the very first day I point out that the course's title is borrowed from the American literature anthology of the same name edited by Paul Lauter and Ann Fitzgerald (Longman, 2001). That an anthology might be organized around issues of class, and that such an anthology has been far less frequently adopted in college courses than more generalized anthologies of American literature, introduces key questions about how the academic establishment itself generates and sustains interest in texts. It also links two separate avenues of investigation that are central to the course: how does the concept of class assert itself as a theme in literature, and how is it that literary texts--even those ostensibly about class--often evade examination as artifacts embedded in a class culture? …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Canon Issues and Class Contexts: Teaching American Literature from a Market Perspective
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.