As we move to proposing principles for a canon of American literature, the example of the twentieth-century's fore-
most canon-maker, T. S. Eliot, is again worth consideration. John Guillory has recently shown how Eliot came to realize what I have been arguing, that one's choice of a canon could not, finally, be defended on literary grounds alone (however much one may value the category of literature). Rather, Eliot saw that the choice had to be a reflection of "a more fundamental evaluative norm, extrinsic to literature (Guillory, 348). Thus, according to Guillory, "Eliot tells us in After Strange Gods , that he is rewriting 'Tradition and the Individual Talent'  by substituting [the term] 'orthodoxy' for 'tradition,' and this is unquestionably an ideological correction" (348). "Orthodoxy," "true opinion," and "right tradition" are made up of the beliefs inculcated by "a Christian education," one that would not so much attempt to produce believers as it would "primarily train people to be able to think in Christian categories." Those poets whose teaching was consistent with orthodoxy had claims to being the "best" poets, the best, at least in the sense that reading them might help promote the Christian Society that Eliot envisioned. Eliot did not say much about the kinds of delight consistent with such teaching, although delight along with teaching there would have to be for Eliot to attempt to overcome his—mistakenly theorized—notion of the "dissociation of sensibility" that presumably set in some time after John Donne.
In selecting his orthodox canon, Eliot had the problem all of us have when we acknowledge that the literature we most approve pedagogically is not always or all of it the literature we most admire esthetically, and vice versa. Eliot's own solution to this problem, as Guillory's discussion makes clear, was to make a distinction between major and minor poets and to suggest that the minor poets could turn out to be more useful—and thus in this regard actually "better"—than the
majors. But Eliot's pleasure in techné, in certain kinds of formal prowess, was such that he could not demote to the category of minor author any technical genius whose teaching alone he deemed counterinstructive, nor promote to majority the technically lesser author merely because he took the "right" line.
In time, then, Eliot gave up the claim for an essential, ahistorical (his phrase for this was "timeless"), and universal greatness as intrinsic to the works that make up the "monuments" of the tradition. Rather, it was the extrinsic principle of orthodoxy that came to authorize his choices of the canonical texts (the "best" if not always the "major" texts)—as it was that principle which animated Eliot's own religious criticism. The term Eliot offered for the principle opposed to orthodoxy was heresy; thus, to support the orthodox and oppose the heretical would be the aims of a religious criticism deployed in the interest of a religious canon authorizing a Christian Society. A secular criticism in the interest of a secular canon and a pluralistic democratic society need not, however, oppose orthodoxy in the name of heresy. To the contrary, it is necessary to reject heresy along with orthodoxy as equivalently the conceptualizations of religious thought. Rather than heresy as the principle (extrinsic, ideological, apart from esthetic valuation), informing my own selections for a canon of American literature, I would suggest what Guillory, in the final sentences of his article names heterodoxy, a term that, for him, is best suited to "consider what it means that 'difference' has become our central critical category . . . a teaching that will enact discursively the struggle of difference" (359). That is all Guillory says on the matter. I have already indicated why I think it is a mistake to construct and endorse any category that would reify an endless struggle of discursive difference. This is—to put the matter
another way—only to valorize a radically ironic perspective, a commitment to tension or difference as an end in itself (I shall have more to say about this temptation, a strong presence in American criticism since the modernist period). Politically, as I have heard Cornel West say, it is a commitment not to revolution, which envisions an end however long-postponed, but to resistance, which is a permanent condition of existence. Or, to take Allon White's formulation of this matter,
A politics of pure difference which refuses to theorise the unity-in-difference of humanity ends by replicating the individualism of the self-sufficient bourgeois ego—a dangerous fiction if ever there was one. (233)
I will thus appropriate the term heterodoxy and use it to name exactly such a principle as "unity-in-difference," as this principle may inform an American literary canon—a canon of national literature—and an American social order. I shall also try to extend it to the international order of literature and society in taking heterodoxy as informing that cosmopolitanism my own discussion will take as its ultimate horizon.
But just here, let me turn again to Edward Said, who has movingly argued against religious criticism and in favor of an explicitly secular criticism. Although Said himself, as I have already noted, is not a canon-maker, still, his theoretical and practical insistence on "how ostrichlike and retrograde assertions about Eurocentric humanities really are" (1983, 29), has strong implications for opening the canon to difference not as a "central critical category" but as the condition of any informed critical stance. Add to this Raymond Williams's comment
that however dominant a social system may be, the very meaning of its domination involves a limitation or selection of the activities it covers, so that by definition it cannot exhaust all social experience, which therefore always potentially contains space for alternative acts and alternative intentions which are not yet articulated as a social institution or even project. (in Said, 29)
Further adduce almost any typical remark of Bakhtin's on the dialogical nature of language, literature, and society (e.g., "There is neither a first nor a last word and there are no limits to the dialogic context" [quoted in A. White, 220]). Recall "without apology" the canon reformation of the 1960s, and there is in all of this more than enough warrant for a heterodox secular canon of literature, not only in opposition to a Christian society, or, indeed to any monologic orthodoxy, but as well to an insistence upon rather than a permission of difference.
For the canon of American literature, secular heterodoxy on an empirical level means something very specific: it means that any proposed canon of American literature that does not include more than merely occasional examples of the literatures produced by red and black people as well as white people—men and women, of indigenous and African, as well as European origins—is suspect on the very face of it. The history of that national formation called the United States of America is such as to insist upon the primacy of Euramerican, Native American, and Afro-American literary expression in any attempt to define an American literature. In saying this, I hope it is clear, to repeat, that I am not calling for some kind of proportional representation for these groups, nor restricting the canon to texts associated with these groups, aprioristically denying that canonical American books might well be pro-
duced by people of Asiatic, or mixed origins, or of any background whatever. In these regards, it is worth noting that Spanish is now the second language of the United States (as it is the second most widely spoken language in the world), a fact sufficiently important to have provoked intense efforts on the part of S. I. Hayakawa and others to pass a regressive and repressive constitutional amendment making English the official language of the United States. As I write, on the eve of Election Day, 1988, proposals are on the ballot in Arizona, Colorado, and Florida to this effect. Given the increase in American Spanish speakers, there is no doubt in my mind that Latino literature will soon exert major pressure on the canon, a development I look forward to with enthusiasm. Nonetheless, to the present, the cultural expression of red, white, and black people seems to me to have a historically urgent claim to primary attention.
I mean, here, to assert that Afro-American and Native American literary production, when we pay attention to it, offers texts equivalently excellent to the traditional Euramerican great books. It is not only that these texts should be read in the interest of fairness or simply because they are available; nor is it because they provide charming examples of "primitive" survivals: they should be read because of their abundant capacity to teach and delight. But for that capacity to be experienced and thus for the excellence of these texts to be acknowledged, it will be necessary, as I have suggested above, to recognize that what they teach frequently runs counter to the teaching of the Western tradition, and that the ways in which they delight is different from the ways in which the Western tradition has given pleasure.
Still, it may be that we have entered into a period in which the prospects for Native American phrónesis[*] and techné are
rather promising. In terms of its teaching, let me note only the fact that traditional and contemporary Native literatures tend pretty much without exception to derive from an ecosystemic, nonanthropocentric perspective on the world that we may at last be coming to see—as the ozone layer thins, as the polar ice melts, as the nonbiodegradable garbage mounts to the skies—as being centrally rather than marginally important to human survival. This is not to say that Indian literatures are explicitly "about" a particular view of "Nature," far from it; yet this is indeed the perspective with which they all, in my experience, are consistent.
In terms of technique, even the most recent and most complexly composed Native American works are still likely to have roots in or relations to oral traditions that differ considerably in their procedures from those of the dominant, text-based culture: if these works are indeed equivalently excellent, still it must be recognized that they are differently excellent. To the extent that we are perhaps already in what Father Walter Ong calls the "secondary orality of our electronic age" (305) to the extent that print culture is already receding from the importance it had for a full five hundred years, we may currently be producing just the conditions of possibility for such a recognition. That postmodernist fiction, poetry, and painting have found a substantial audience; that the disjointed, even spasmodic styles of "Miami Vice," "Crime Story," and MTV music video have proved popular, indicates that a wide public has lost interest in attempts to represent the world realistically in causally connected, continuous linear narrative. Ronald Reagan's popularity, matched with the unpopularity of his actual political positions, is only further evidence of a paradigm shift whose description is already possible to produce, although its evaluation remains somewhat more difficult. In any event, the
material situation as I can understand it, for all that I am wary of it, nonetheless seems to me encouraging for the appreciation of Native American literature.
In the chapters that follow, I first explore the relations between critical perspectives and the canon, most particularly as these relate to the inclusion or exclusion—indeed, the very visibility—of Native American work. This exploration is followed by an essentially historical study that traces attempts to place Indian literatures within the canon of American literature. I embark next upon a lengthy return to the genre of Native American literature with which I have been most concerned, Native American autobiography. I try to do some careful reading here, practical criticism, as it used proudly to be called, of texts that are only marginally literary. My aims are multiple: to call these texts to the attention of readers and make them interesting and illustrative in a variety of ways; to deduce from them some theoretical principles that may, to this point, have occupied a certain" space" but have not been even modestly "grounded." My final chapter attempts to consider the place of Native American literature as part of a heterodox American national, international, and ultimately cosmopolitan world canon of literature. I hope here, as throughout, to provide some theoretical basis for the enormous amount of practical work that needs to be done. A brief conclusion rounds out this book.