women, African-Americans and “other ethnics.” According to Fox-Genovese the creation of identifiable literary traditions for separate groups threatens the very basis of the American union. In the introduction to her “critique of individualism” Fox-Genovese defines the “individual” as a creation of “the systematic theory of politics, society, economics and epistemology that emerged following the renaissance, that was consolidated in the great English, American, French and Haitian revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, and that has found its purest logical outcome in the laissez-faire doctrines of neoclassical economics and libertarian political theory.” This definition, too broad to ground a cogent argument, obliterates important differences among these various revolutions, and implies that they all descend from one “systematic” theory, the Enlightenment probably. The vaguely defined term “individualism” takes on a rhetorical life of its own in the various essays, becoming the pejorative for any number of particular claims which currently run rampant over what she calls the U.S. collective values of “freedom, democracy and equality.” In place of a logical argument, she sites numerous instances of the attack of “individualism” on the “remaining bastions of corporatism and community,” declining to explain how a state based on democratic principles can be threatened by its own diversity. The parallelism between community and “corporatism” suggests a definition of the collective life for which she yearns. Her vision of collective life is profoundly anti-democratic, sentimentalizing “corporatism” as an imposition of inequality in the name of the group, presumably for its greater good. Under the “corporatist” society of the early 19th century women enjoyed the important benefits of security and a viable career as a wife, even though they were excluded from public rights \(“from discussion disturbingly reminiscent of the white South African articulation of the political rights of “groups,” she argues that a stable “corporatist” social structure requires the subordination of some “communities” to others. “The same laws that subordinated serfs to lords, slaves to masters, and women to men,” Fox-Genovese writes, “ensured at least minimal community coherence.” Fox-Genovese would have us believe that a plurality of different voices with both political clout and cultural legitimacy threatens our identity as “Americans,” a category which she portrays as transcendent and omnipresent. While she admits that the dominant tradition has “studiously ignored complex class, race and gender relations,” she also claims that U.S. national culture is seriously under attack and must be defended. “From persisting immigration to the power of multinational corporations, innumerable forces are eroding the concept of the nation as we have known it.” Evidently “our” concept of the nation includes neither immigration nor multinationals. At the same time, Fox-Genovese insists on acknowledging the importance of diversity in the United States. But what does diversity mean for her? There are “women,” “African-Americans,” and “other ethnics.” The category “women” includes both “white northeastern” women and “elite white southern” women who are often marginalized, she claims, by mainstream feminist discourse. This understanding of diversity is a very narrow one indeed. All of these groups, she argues, have developed similar strategies to undermine the canon. Fox-Genovese creates a strawman, generally termed “recent work in American Studies,” which is devoted to establishing the “cultural integrity of noncanonical culture.” Trumpeting the ascendency of the left, Fox-Genovese argues that those who represent the claims of marginalized people have created separatist traditions that deny any relation between dominant literature and works by “women,” “AfricanAmericans” and “ethnic” cultures. Casting the debate in this way, she can then discover a “sustained engagement” on the part of AfricanAmerican writers with the dominant tradition. This in itself hardly needs to be argued, and no contemporary critic would say that AfricanAmerican literarature, for example, has developed completely untouched by dominant Western traditions. It is the nature of this engagement that feminist and African-American critics, as well as many others, attempt to understand. Fox-Genovese frames her argument in terms of the “challenge” posed by the tradition to members of excluded groups. “The elite conception of American culture has been able to offer itself as the embodiment of our national aspirations as a people and as the standard against which all discrete cultures have had to define themselves.” Nowhere in her explication of the canon debate does she identify the mechanisms by which the cannon “offers itself’ or compels others to define themselves through it. In one of her more disturbing moments, she trivializes the importance of the history of slavery for AfricanAmerican writers, analyzing their continuing focus on the subject as an engagement with “the central myth of American culturethe myth of individual freedom and equality.” Ultimately, Fox-Genovese proposes a paternalistic relation between the dominant literary culture and marginalized traditions. While she insists on the importance of the new perspec tives that all people, “male and female, black, white and ‘ethnic,'” bring to the national identity, her discussion gets mired in family metaphors, betraying an unfortunate fascination with lineage. The canon, for Fox-Genovese, represents the “Dukes or Counts” to whom all orphans and adopted children wish to be related. Arguing for the necessity of uncovering one’s biological ancestry, she nonetheless neglects to identify the “parents” of newly emergent voices. Orphans who do not descend from royalty, she explains, might find that they are in fact descended from alcoholics, unwed couples, “or worse.” Those excluded from the canon need to know the cause of that exclusion and to be wary of “romantic answers.” Implicit in this metaphor is a tendency to see women and others as at least partially responsible for their marginalized status. She notes, for instance, that most women have not opposed “the reigning values of their societies in a consistent and programmatic fashion.” But once the literary orphans of national culture have sought their biological roots, their divergent autobiographies cannot form the foun dation of a new national politics. Instead, FoxGenovese concludes, the nation must “educate them to identify with the polity, rather than to define themselves as its natural opponents.” This resurgence of nationalist culture \(as opposed to “individualism” as a force for re-education returns the definition of common culture to the “corporatist” state upheld by the nuclear family with which she began. Fox-Genovese warns that if the nation refuses its responsibility to re-educate all its offspring, it risks its utter disintegration. She hotly cornpares the “decomposition” of the Soviet Union to “the less immediately ominous, but nonetheless possible, decomposition of the United States” into warring ethnic sub-cultures, and advocates a return to traditional values of home and nation, of childbearing and brassiers, of “corporatism and community” as the only possible response. The essays in this book offer the reader little more than the meandering thoughts of a woman who rejects three decades of productive feminist dialogue, of which she herself has formerly been a part, in order to produce an apocalyptic vision of warring academics. As fife head of a women’s studies program, she should know better. LI Fox-Genovese complains of an “ominous ring” of feminism, stemming from its association with “bra-burners” and “lesbians.” THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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