AMERICAN LITERATURE; vol. 57 no. 2
May 1985

The Integrity of Memory:
Creating a New Literary History of the United States

ANNETTE KOLODNY
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Scanned, copy-edited, spell-checked, and tagged by Daniel H. Backer, The University of Virginia, 11/13/95.


It is a propitious moment to be rewriting the literary history of the United States. Two decades of unprecedented scholarship and criticism have excavated lost authors for our reconsideration, delineated literary traditions of which we had been previously unaware, and raised probing questions about the very processes by which we canonize, valorize, and select the texts to be remembered. In the wake of all the new information about the literary production of women, Blacks, Native Americans, ethnic minorities, and gays and lesbians; and with new ways of analyzing popular fiction, non-canonical genres, and working-class writings, all prior literary histories are rendered partial, inadequate, and obsolete.

One might well conclude, therefore, that these are sufficient reasons for two major university presses committing their considerable resources to the displacement of Robert E. Spiller and Willard Thorp's Literary History of the United States (that monumental pony upon which generations of American literature graduate students, from 1948 on, rode to their Ph.D. orals).[1] But something besides the new scholarship may also be in the air. The coincidence of Columbia and Cambridge University Presses independently deciding to embark on new literary histories of the United States may reflect, as well, the rhetorical mood of the nation in the 1980s. Let us consider, after all, that the eighties were to be the decade of healing and consolidation. With the volatile 1960s, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandals supposedly behind us, three presidents in a row- Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan- called upon the country to bind up its wounds, heal its divisions, and commit itself anew to shared traditions. In such an atmosphere, the appeal of an all-embracing, revamped national literary history was all but inevitable.

If I am correct that it was both twenty years of new scholarship and the political call to reconciliation that moved the Mellon Foundation to launch the Columbia volume and moved editors at Cambridge to launch their multi-volume literary history, then there lies at the heart of these two projects an impossible contradiction: The political call to reconciliation and consolidation, with its rhetoric of shared traditions, challenges everything that the new scholarship would teach us. For the fact remains that the national mood which calls forth a new literary history has little in common with the historical moments that first prompted a concerted reexamination of that history. This is a point to which I will return. For now, let me simply note that, as a result of this discrepancy, inherent in the fervor to reassert shared traditions and "traditional values" lies the danger that two decades of innovative rethinking will not be consolidated so much as contained (by which I mean checked and harnessed).

To be sure, the writing of literary history in the United States, from the first, has been a call to shared traditions or "a common national accent," as Moses Coit Tyler put it in 1878.[2] But the conclusion to be drawn from the work of the past twenty years is that Tyler's evocation of a literature "single in its commanding ideas and in its national destinies" (AHAL II, 318) is an illusion sustained only by selective exclusion. The first major effort at constructing a literary history and a model for all subsequent treatments of the early period, Tyler's two-volume History of American Literature, 1607-1765 discusses the Euro-Americans' initial literary fascination with the Indian, but nowhere credits the native population (in Tyler's view, "those uncouth dusky creatures" [AHAL II, 10]) with a song or narrative tradition of their own. Tyler's index has an entry for the "English language, as modified in America" (AHAL II, 322), but no entry whatever for Dutch, French or Spanish. And although Anne Bradstreet is accorded a respectful discussion, and Jane Turrell given brief mention and a footnote, Tyler's literary history is predominantly male, always white, and uniformly English. His agenda, of course, as revealed in the index entry under "American Literature" was "its development toward uniformity" (AHAL II, 319).

Aimed at correcting precisely those omissions and silences that Tyler first codified, the new scholarship asserts as its central critical category not commonality but difference.[3] In its wake, we can no longer discuss the documents of discovery and first sightings as European expressions of "wonder" without also acknowledging the fear and loathing in the narratives of Africans brought here against their will, as slaves. No longer can we talk about the optimism marking the nineteenth-century literature of expansion and manifest destiny, or look to Cooper as the major mythographer of the westward movement, without also acknowledging the anxieties and resistances in the documents by pioneer women and the alternate frontier fantasies promulgated by writers like Mary Austin Holley, Eliza Farnham, and Caroline Kirkland.[4] No longer can we discuss the development of the theater and mean only the English-language theater, thereby ignoring the rich history of an independent Yiddish theater movement. Indeed, no longer can we hold to the linguistic insularity implied by the Americanist's presence in departments of English. The United States have never had a national language and boast a rich literary heritage composed in languages other than English. No longer, in other words, can we be so restrictive in what we choose to recognize as "American."

The result of this insistence on difference and diversity, however, has been an increasing fragmentation in American literary scholarship. Americanists in the 1980s can devote entire careers to figures whose names were not even known twenty years ago, and whose names may still be unfamiliar to many of their professional colleagues. The colonialist investigating Dutch and French Iiterary roots may well have no idea of what the specialist in Southwestern Indian oral traditions means by the "trickster figure." And this apparent Babel of specialization and specialist vocabularies no doubt also accounts, in part, for the current enthusiasm for a new literary history. In the eyes of many, that alone holds the promise of pulling the field back together and giving us common ground from which to talk to one another. Here again, though, we encounter the shadow of conflicting agendas: the zeal to assert common ground could have the impact of abbreviating the mapping of alternative landscapes.

The powerful presence of contradictory motives and their inevitable potential for distortion and containment become immediately clear when those who would design a new literary history enumerate the problems that confront them. First, there is the challenge of locating the interconnections and intersections between all the new scholarship and the orthodoxies of the past so as to organize a coherent story. Second, there is the problem of deciding what to include and what to emphasize, given a limited number of pages. Third, there is the problem of accommodating the tasks of both the historical and the evaluative critic. And all of this is compounded by the fact that unlike Moses Coit Tyler or Spiller and Thorp, we in the 1980s "are less certain of ourselves." As Emory Elliott, editor of the Columbia Literary History of the United States candidly admits, "we are not so sure we know what American literature is or what history is and whether we have the authority to explain either."[5]

When each of these problems is elaborated, however, something far more insidious than Elliott's modest uncertainty emerges. The problem of integrating the new scholarship is usually posed within prior categories (regionalism, realism, the Gothic) and standard periodizations (colonial America, the early Republic, the American Renaissance, etc.) and articulated as the need to be conscious of the contributions of women and minority group writers within these categories and periods. In much the same vein, the problem of space considerations usually produces something like the following (though any number of Canonical Authors may be substituted for Hawthorne and Melville): "Since we only have 200 pages for the entire nineteenth century, and since we have to cover the American Renaissance, and since Hawthorne and Melville between them published so many important works that we can't omit, that doesn't leave much room for all the rest." The problem of producing a text that is both historical and critical (that is, evaluative) most often follows Edmund Wilson's 1941 appeal that a literary history not be "merely social or political history as reflected in literary texts, or psychological case histories ... or ... merely chronologies of books that have been published." And it is here, in the concern to distinguish (in Wilson's words again) "the first-rate from the second rate" that we locate the source of Perry Miller's later concern that Americanists "make clear which are the few peaks and which the many low-lying hills."[6] Miller's topography in the introduction to Major Writers of America is now our vocabulary of major and minor.

When taken together and scrutinized in terms of the outcomes they imply, these arguments reveal not three separate problems but only different articulations of a single-minded anxiety lest the familiar, the comfortable and the canonized be either dislodged or recontextualized. In a 1981 article in College English, Harry Levin made explicit what has always been implicit in such arguments. Against the impulse to dislodge or recontextualize, Levin defended canonical orthodoxy on the grounds that "without this, we will lose our most valued patrimony, our collective memory."[7] The real problem that confronts us as we attempt to rewrite the literary history of the United States, then, is that most of us are so much inside of or held by well-established categories of thought and habits of discrimination that, as Harold Bloom describes it, "only enormous effort can make us aware of how reluctant we are to know our incarceration."[8]

If the past twenty years have taught us anything, however, it must be that we will know our incarceration only when we are willing to engage the possibility of dislodgings and reordered contexts. Women's writings about the frontier, Afro-American narrative traditions, the song and chant expressions of Native Americans- each, in their way, evade or even defy our inherited categories of discourse and evaluation. They fit neither the periodicity nor the critical frameworks that have informed prior literary histories, and to try to contain such materials within these frameworks will result not in integration but in fundamental distortion.

Examples abound. What enables Hortense Spillers to examine the thematic interconnections between works by Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Walker, and Toni Morrison "is exactly the right not to accede to the simplifications and mystifications of a strictly historiographical time line." Only this defiance of standard periodicity, she insists, "now promises the greatest freedom of discourse to black people, to black women, as critics, teachers, writers, and thinkers."[9] "One can approach the subject of the American Indian woman in literature chronologically," asserts the editor of Studies in American Indian Literature; even so, the chronology she recommends begins not with Jamestown or Plymouth Rock but "with the appearance of the female image in the myths and legends."[10] Analogously, as Deborah E. McDowell's current work illustrates, canonical orthodoxy will not permit us an adequate comprehension of Alice Walker's 1983 Pulitzer-prize novel, The Color Purple. As its precursor text, McDowell argues Walker's novel institutes the authority of Frances E. W. Harper's 1892 novel, Iola Leroy, which in its turn is a response to Uncle Tom's Cabin. To fully appreciate Walker, therefore, we should also know Harper.[11]

My own work on the so-called "sentimental" or "domestic" novelists of the mid-nineteenth-century persuades me that we have been so crippled by our habits of chronology and labelling that we automatically periodize "realism" in fiction to the postbellum decades and thereby fail to recognize its emergence in the works of those women whom Hawthorne damned as merely sentimental scribblers. In The Land Before Her, I tried to emphasize that the manipulation of sentiments practiced by writers like Ann Sophia Stephens or Susanna Maria Cummins rested on a bedrock of "often . . . brutal realism," as these writers elaborated in their fictions "the evil effects of the transformation from decentralized agrarian to industrial capitalistic structures."[12] In her study of these same enormously popular women writers of mid-century, Jane Tompkins suggests that we are so crippled by our "modernist literary principles" that we can no longer even read- let alone properly evaluate- those writers. A novel by Susan Warner will never look as good as The Scarlet Letter," according to Tompkins, "as long as one reads it within the same set of critical assumptions that have given Hawthorne's novel its current shape." The way we now read, interpret, and estimate The Scarlet Letter, she argues, "is the product of a way of seeing and evaluating literature which cannot take sentimental fiction seriously because it is founded on modernist literary principles that were articulated in direct opposition to those which sentimental fiction stands for."[13]

To accommodate those writers who institute the authority of non-canonical works or those traditions which will not fit our standard periods, and to make room for those, like the sentimentalists, who were once so popular, there has been a tendency in curricula and anthologies alike to bracket these off under rubrics like "Minority Voices" or "Women Writers." By thus marking such materials as anomalous, this solution effectively leaves intact the literary history we might glean from Spiller and Thorp. A truly new literary history cannot settle for such solutions, however, because the imputation of anomaly is inherently demeaning, often wrong-headed (how can the popular be anomalous?), and because the bracketing-off defeats any possibility of telling a coherent, integrated story about our literary past. Besides being ahistorical, categories like "Minority Voices" or "Women Writers" also simplify out of existence the complicating intersections of race, class, and gender.

The bracketing-off of a category like "Black Voices," for example, might make it difficult to tell the story of literary influence that moves across race lines- as with Deborah McDowell's description of the linkage from Harriet Beecher Stowe through Frances E. W. Harper to Alice Walker. Moreover, as McDowell's work also makes clear, to bracket off "Black Voices" or "The Afro-American Heritage" too easily masks the fact that "the nature of intertextual relations among black women writers [is] . . . distinct from those among black men." She notes that "Henry Gates's description of intertextuality in his discussion of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and Ishmael Reed characterizes the formal relations between them as largely adversarial and parodic." By contrast, McDowell points out that Alice Walker refrains from parody when addressing her own precursor text in The Color Purple, choosing instead to "both transform and retain themes, forms, and tropes adumbrated in Iola Leroy." Rather than the parodic or adversarial stance of male texts, in other words, the work of contemporary Black women writers engages "in a dialogue" with its predecessors.[14]

If gender inevitably complicates the bracketing-off of race, so too the reverse is true. A rubric like "Women Writers" would only be useful if it took into account the fact that, unlike her white sister, "the black woman writer" never embedded in her work "the neurotic strategies of the angel-in-the-house or the madwoman-in-the-attic." In offering a "theoretical framework for a literary history of black women," Mary Helen Washington attributes this crucial difference to the Black woman writer's "powerful identification with a female kinship network which transmits its own authority."[15] Patricia Clark Smith offers the same kind of cautionary distinction when she remarks that "the monster-mother and the usurper-daughter are not American Indian images." Her point here is that when family relationships are its subject, the poetry of American Indian women does not employ the same structures of emotional tension as found in "Anglo women's poetry."[16] But it is precisely these pluralities that the category "Women Writers" too often trivializes (by offering only the briefest samplings of difference) or altogether evades (by concentrating on white middle-class women). That such bracketings are for these reasons inherently inadequate is clearly confirmed by the fact that, as yet, we have seen no enterprising new anthology divided simply into "Male Voices" and "Female Voices."

A history that would embrace- rather than bracket-off or mask- all these important differences and distinctions is a history that allows us to remember more, not less, about our complex literary inheritance. Harry Levin's anxiety about the threatened loss of "our most valued patrimony, our collective memory" is thus delusory. The "patrimony" he would pass on was purchased at the price of the inheritance of mothers, wives, and daughters. And his cherished "collective memory" is, in fact, a memory that begins in Boston and enshrines a past that is largely white, Anglo, male, and middle-class. The work of critics and scholars like Deborah McDowell, Patricia Clark Smith, Hortense Spillers, Jane Tompkins, Mary Helen Washington, and so many others allows us now to see that Levin's prized patrimony was an impoverished thing, indeed, because too much had been expunged from our collective memory.

In a paper first delivered at St. John's University in November 1983, Norman Grabo offered a compelling lesson on what continues to be lost if we do not "create [literary] history again and more accurately." Among other early texts that he would reinsert into "American" literary history, Grabo discusses Gaspar Perez de Villagra's 1610 epic poem, The History of New Mexico (written in Spanish in what is now Texas). In Grabo's description, Villagra's 34 cantos are "devoted to the founding of a permanent Spanish settlement in the Southwest, vivid and authoritative in [their] depiction of the Pueblo Indians at Acoma, ... rousing in [their] celebration of ... the rigors of the American desert, the brave hostility of American Indians, and the great battle that established Hispanics in the Southwest in 1598." Grabo then introduces Simon Ortiz's 1981 volume of poems, From Sand Creek: Rising in This Heart Which Is Our America (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press). Behind the stories of a group of Indians, all Vietnam veterans, met in a Colorado Veteran's Administration hospital, Grabo notes, "runs another . . . meditative line concerning the U.S. Army's massacre of many women and children at Sand Creek, Colorado, in 1864." The affinities between the clash of cultures in Ortiz's poetry series and in Villagra's cantos impress Grabo, including the fact that Simon Ortiz "is an Acoma Indian, raised on the very rock fortress that Villagra celebrated in his epic. Knowing Villagra, we cannot read Ortiz without a sense of connection," avers Grabo. But that connection is never made by Ortiz. "Young men named Ortiz died in Villagra's poem at the hands of Simon Ortiz's Acoman ancestor," continues Grabo, "and yet this Indian poet bearing the Spanish name and a Chicano attitude finds his villains in Anglo-American Puritanism and the spirit of ... Cotton Mather. One can only guess," Grabo concludes, "that at least one part of this talented man's cultural consciousness has been expunged by a literary history created by, of all people, Moses Coit Tyler."[17]

All of which leads inexorably to the question of how we might compose a literary history that recovers the integrity of memory. How do we proceed when the most basic concepts with which we confidently taught American literature twenty years ago present themselves now not as concepts but as problems?[18] Or, to use Bloom's apt phrasing, how do we begin the heroic effort "to know our incarceration"?

II

In a 1983 essay entitled "Native American Literature and the Canon," Arnold Krupat noted that "it is only since the 1950s and 1960s that philological and structural work" emerged that might make it possible for critics "to recognize what Native literatures aboriginally were and ... to recognize when and if the influence of these literatures is present in work by Native and non-Native writers." Only since 1975, moreover, does Krupat date the emergence of "an adequately sophisticated criticism for these literatures."[19]Similar statements of belatedness can be made about the development of critical strategies for investigating gay and lesbian,[20] Asian-American, or Chicano writings. As a result, any literary history composed in the 1980s, like all of its predecessors, will necessarily be partial and incomplete. The challenge to create something wholly new from what are still only fragments of our literary past may loom less forbidding, however, if we accept at the outset that the writing of literary history is never a static or completed process.

In stark contrast to the authoritative tone of earlier histories, a certain tentativeness should mark the introductions to these new volumes, as editors acknowledge that they have many and different and sometimes only partial stories to tell. As Sacvan Bercovitch, general editor of The Cambridge History of American Literature, anticipates, sometimes the stories will be marked by "contradiction and discontinuity."[21] And sometimes the interconnectedness of these stories will remain unclear. None of this should disturb those who would embark on the ambitious project of creating literary history anew, however, because the success of these projects will be measured not by their finality but by their success in offering information and cognitive skills that enable readers to appreciate a fuller variety of texts than those which now comprise our standard canon. Another generation, motivated by its own unique historical imperatives, will want to reinvent literary history for itself, anyway. They may then see the interconnections that we cannot. At the very least, though, we will have given them so much more to work from.

III

Like Jacob wrestling with the angel, the creators of a new literary history will have to wrestle with the antecedent power of established canons and inherited historical designs. If these cannot be avoided, they can at least be thrown into question. But only if we first recognize that we take so for granted the literary history bequeathed us by Spiller and Thorp that, as Norman Grabo observes, "it becomes an active force against alternative versions."[22]

With that recognition in place, and with a mental question mark following all our habitual categories and labels- Gothic, sentimental, regional, major and minor, etc.- we may at last begin a herioc rereading. It is a rereading that must proceed from the commitment to take seriously those works with which we are least familiar, and especially so when they challenge current notions of art and artifice. It is, as well, a rereading that must begin with the unfamiliar. In my view, those who would create a new literary history must first school themselves in the criticism and scholarship of the past twenty years and then immerse themselves in the texts that were never taught in graduate school- to the exclusion of the works with which they had previously been taught to feel comfortable and competent. The prior acquaintance with the new criticism and scholarship will provide strategies for reading the unfamiliar (since we cannot read what we do not know how to read), while the avoidance of familiar texts and authors will help in the breaking-away from old habits of classification and interpretation.

Only when this initiatory baptism in the unfamiliar is completed should the would-be new literary historians return to those writers and texts designated as "major" in the canon as we now know it. But even this return to familiar ground must be attended by a further immersion in the criticism of recent years- feminist criticism, most notably- which has aimed at new decipherings. Incidentally, interconnections will appear that had not before been visible. Ralph Waldo Emerson's "representative man" may be identifiable in the recurrent self-inventions of Frederick Douglass, while Emerson's hoped-for American Scholar may be discovered in the intellectual independence of Margaret Fuller. The literary historian who came to the project dedicated to producing a history of works that enjoyed subsequent influence- and who assumed, of course, that this meant the so-called Major Writers- will have realized that the popular domestic novelists of the mid-nineteenth century left a legacy of social fiction whose influence reached at least to Henry James.

While all of this is invaluable, the most important result of the extended initiation into popular literature, the writings of women, Blacks, Chicanos, etc., is that the standard canon will no longer be able to elicit from us an automatic residue of trained perception and response. Seen now through a grid of non-canonical works and alternate interpretive strategies, the once-familiar will have been defamiliarized. What will be remembered afresh are the vicissitudes in literary taste through time and the diversity and mutability of aesthetic judgments and interpretive strategies.[23] Precisely this process of defamiliarization- what Coleridge in the Biographia Literaria hailed as an escape "from the lethargy of custom"- holds the key to the possibility of genuinely new, wholly reconceptualized literary histories. For it is only the long, arduous process of defamiliarization that enables us, at the last, to stand before the vast array of texts- canonical and non-canonical alike- and view them as more or less complex assemblages of rhetorical and stylistic devices whose meanings and value have been variously constituted over time by changing audiences. With this as its initiating stance, literary history is liberated to accommodate both the historical and the evaluative impulses in wholly new ways, because the old questions that once separated the critic from the historian are no longer operative.

Defamiliarization empowers us to understand that the critic's nagging obsession to locate any and every text within a graded, evaluative hierarchy, irrespective of history, is no more (and no less) than one facet of an ongoing process by which competing interest groups vie for cultural hegemony, in part by defining what shall be invested with merit. Instead of implying timeless or universal qualities, the question "Is it any good?" now can be seen to imply the time-bound and the interested, its intelligibility resting on criteria which have undergone successive and sometimes radical reformulations over time. The question that suggests itself as a replacement for the ultimately relativistic "Is it any good?", moreover, is a question that is ineluctably and newly historicizing.

That question emerges most clearly in the work of Jane Tompkins. Viewing texts as both "agents and products of cultural formation," Tompkins proposes that we examine "the way ... narratives work out problems inherent in the culture at the moment of composition."[24] This would imply, for example, a comparativist rereading of Frederick Douglass' Narrative of the Life of ... an American Slave (1845), Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), and Henry David Thoreau's "Slavery in Massachusetts" (1854) in terms of the different narrative strategies employed by each in order to respond to a specific historical situation: northern complacency in the face of southern slavery. Or it might imply a fresh look at Susanna Maria Cummins' Mabel Vaughan (1857) as a novel that had power in its day because it successfully worked out an accommodation between competing male and female fantasies of the western frontiers.[25] To Tompkins' approach, I would append the corollary questions of why texts fail to gain power at their moment of composition; and, as well, why some texts get resurrected at later periods and are seen to speak to historical moments not their own.

If the main concern of the Cambridge and Columbia projects is "the re-historicizing of American literature," as Sacvan Bercovitch states it is,[26] then instead of grading works as good or bad or denominating authors as major or minor, we are better advised to follow Tompkins' lead in trying to understand how and why specific texts "have power in the world"[27] (or do not attain power, as the case may be) at any given moment. Let me explain the appeal of such an approach: To understand how a text works out "problems inherent in the culture at the moment of composition"[28] or how a text is reconstituted by some later cultural elite so as to work out the problems of another period- and thus how it achieves power at any given time- simultaneously enables both synchronic and diachronic analyses. On the one hand, this approach offers innovative procedures for analyzing the literary strategies of a single period or decade; on the other hand, it offers new ways of constructing lines of literary influence. Most importantly, in other words, this approach allows us to reassess our literary heritage by means and in terms of reembedding texts and authors into encompassing, complicated, and dense historical processes. (As an added advantage, it also relieves the specialist in nineteenth-century women's domestic fiction or the specialist in early Asian-American writings of the nonsensical burden of trying to recuperate these materials on the grounds that they are "just as good as canonical texts," or, as Jane Tompkins phrases it, "good in the same way canonical texts are.")[29]

Furthermore, by designing a literary history around the question of why texts do or do not "have power in the world" at any given historical moment, we necessarily curtail the tendency to privilege any particular genre or style over another. Instead, our attention is directed toward cultural contexts (which, as I have said, rehistoricize the text) and to the material facts of literary production, distribution, and dissemination (which historicize the publishing industry and the reading public both). Raymond Williams, especially, endorses the value of such an approach when he recommends that literary history comprise a "restoration of the whole social material process, and specifically of cultural production as social and material."[30] By taking a cue from Williams, we manage to go beyond simple authorial influence studies to a thorough examination of who, at any time, controls the economics of publishing and what group or community, at any given moment, monitors the gateways of popular and elite culture. Inevitably, thereby, literary history becomes in part social history, in part economic history, and in part the history of taste.

It also becomes, in part, the history of the vocation of criticism itself. And this is just as it should be, because in tracing the changing literary canon over time, a new literary history must make clear that, whatever their claims to universality or disinterestedness, critics and scholars have never functioned free of the inflections of sex, race, ethnicity, ideology, class and caste. By examining the vocation of criticism from its inception- which must be the "literary essays" composed by women like Margaret Fuller and Caroline Kirkland for popular periodicals in the mid-nineteenth-century- we see anew that literary values have never existed "independently of the social structures within which judgments of value are made."[31] When the ladies were in control of the literary (in this case, the reviewing) establishment, as they were in the 1840s and 1850s, Hawthorne was favorably compared to Susan Warner and to Alice Cary. When a male academy took over the vocation of criticism, as in our own century, Hawthorne was compared only to Melville.

IV

The ideology that informed the book reviews of female editors like Caroline Kirkland was a middle-class nostalgic ideology of home and hearth, an ideology that these women saw threatened on the one hand by excessive wealth and on the other by the dispersion of the family to factories and mill towns. Behind Moses Coit Tyler's chapters, we detect the urgent call to national union which marked the postbellum decades. In Spiller and Thorp we hear the prideful cultural assertions of a nation that had lately demonstrated its military preeminence on the world stage. But it is not only the literary ladies of the mid-nineteenth century, nor Moses Coit Tyler at the end of that century, nor Spiller and Thorp in the 1940s and 1950s whose tastes and agendas were bound and conditioned by history. So too, as we embark upon a new literary history, are we bound by our own historical moments. And this fact returns me to the contradiction I suggested earlier, when I noted a discrepancy between the decade that made these new literary history projects inevitable and the two decades preceding, which made the projects possible. My argument all along has been that any new literary history must respond not to the fraudulent calls to "traditional values" and "a common heritage" heard in the 1980s, but rather to the respect for diversity, plurality, and heterogeneity that marked the outburst of innovative criticism and scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s.

To keep faith with the spirit of those decades, a literary history created in the 1980s must remember its own historical antecedents. It must remember, in short, the moments that generated all the new scholarship: that moment in 1962 when Students for a Democratic Society published the "Port Huron Statement"; that moment in 1963 when Martin Luther King, Jr. led a massive civil rights march on Washington and declared, "I have a dream"; that moment in 1964 when students took over Sproul Hall and brought nationwide attention to the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley; those horrific moments in 1965 when the United States launched large-scale bombings of North Vietnam, and then again in 1970 when our armed forces secretly invaded Cambodia; those moments in 1966 that saw the formation of the National Organization for Women and in 1967 when NOW adopted the Bill of Rights for Women; those frightening moments in 1968 when first Martin Luther King, Jr. and then Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, and we watched the beating of newsmen and citizens over national tv as the Democrats held their Convention in Chicago. Nor must we forget our anguish over the murders at Kent State in 1970; the resistance to police harrassment at the Stonegate Tavern in 1969, followed by the first Gay Pride march in New York City in 1970; and the 1973 seizure of the church and trading post at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, by members of the American Indian Movement publicizing a century of betrayals.

These, then, were some of the moments that made us aware that if there was something uniquely "American" about our nation and our literary inheritance, it was not a harmonious commonality or shared traditions but diversity, division, and discord. In the 1960s and 1970s, that awareness generated a revolutionizing critical vocabulary of plurality and a scholarly excavation of difference. In too many instances, feminists, Blacks, gays and lesbians in the academy risked their careers to pursue this new awareness. The Columbia and Cambridge projects, therefore, must honor these individuals' intellectual tenacity, keep faith with their historical moments, and take no fewer risks than did those whose work now makes these projects possible.


During the course of composition, this essay benefitted enormously from the careful reading and suggestions of Norman Grabo, Ellen Messer-Davidow, and Sacvan Bercovitch.