In a late volume of verse called May-Day and Other Pieces (1867), Ralph Waldo Emerson published a long poem titled "The Adirondacs." The poem details a hiking trip to New York that Emerson had made in 1858 with a group of Boston friends. As they tramp through the wilderness, Emerson and his friends, as Gay Wilson Allen, his biographer, writes, "meet a traveler with a newspaper announcing that the [trans]Atlantic cable has been completed and is operating" (636). "Emerson exults," says Wilson Allen, who quotes, as illustrative of Emersonian exultation, a few lines from "The Adirondacs." Emerson writes:
Thought's new-found path
Shall supplement henceforth all trodden ways,
Match God's equator with a zone of art.
Emerson goes on in this inflationary vein with some lines from "The Adirondacs" that Wilson Allen does not quote, lines that are particularly interesting to me. For Emerson continues:
It is not Iroquois or cannibals,
But ever the free race with front sublime,
And these instructed by their wisest too,
Who do the feat, and lift humanity.
We flee away from cities, but we bring
The best of cities with us, these learned classifiers,
Men knowing what they seek, armed eyes of experts.
We praise the guide, we praise the forest life:
But will we sacrifice our dear-bought lore
Of books and arts and trained experiment,
Or count the Sioux a match for Agassiz?
O no, not we! (193)
Louis Agassiz, Professor of Natural History at Harvard, Emerson's alma mater, was, whatever his other achievements, a convert to the so-called "American School" of ethnology, which taught the theory of polygenesis—multiple creations—as an explanation of what were, in the nineteenth century, usually taken to be innate racial differences. And, in 1850, Agassiz had pronounced himself on the biologically determined characteristics of African Americans and Native Americans, distinguishing between "the submissive, obsequious negro" and the "indomitable, courageous, proud Indian" (in Dippie 92). Proud, but obviously no match, culturally, for the white "learned classifier" and his armed vision. Another of the hikers on Emerson's tramp through the Adirondacks was the famed jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., who, in what must surely be an ex cathedra opinion, according to Brian Dippie, "likened the Indian to a red crayon sketch" (84), only the roughest version of the white man, who, no doubt, represented the highest form of Man in full oil portrait.
"[C]ount the Sioux a match for Agassiz?" No, Emerson
proclaims, "no, not we." Emerson's "no" to the Sioux, the Iroquois, and any other presumptive "cannibals" or "savages" has been reiterated recently in regard to non-Western cultural production generally by the National Endowment for the Humanities report of October, 1989, called "50 Hours: A Core Curriculum for College Students." In it, Lynne Cheney, head of the Endowment, reaffirms the Western supremicism of the Endowment's former head, the egregious William Bennett, and thus offers official government support for the positions of such champions of the West's "dear-bought lore/ Of books and arts and trained experiment" as Allan Bloom, Walter Jackson Bate, and others.
Emerson's worry that anyone might think to "count the Sioux a match for Agassiz" finds a minor contemporary equivalent in such things as a 1988 column in the New York Tribune in which I am specifically chided (among others more notable than I) for "starting [my] American literature students with parallel readings in the Book of Genesis and Iroquois Indian creation stories. The list," writes the Tribune columnist with apparent disgust, "goes on and on." On and on to the point where Christopher Clausen, in a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education , "bets" that Alice Walker's "The Color Purple is taught in more English courses today than all of Shakespeare's plays combined" (6).
But Clausen, like Emerson before him, is overreacting. I have no statistics for college English courses, but the New York Times for June 23, 1989, under the headline "School Reading Lists Shun Women and Black Authors," affirms that
Required reading lists in the nation's high schools continue to emphasize the works of Shakespeare but largely ignore the lit-
erary contributions of women and members of minorities, a new survey says. (21)
And Arthur Applebee's monograph, A Study of Book-length Works Taught in High School English Courses , published the same year as the Times article appeared, finds that not Alice Walker, but, rather, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, and Mark Twain are, in fact, the most generally assigned American novelists. This is the case, as Henry Louis Gates, Jr., points out, "even in public schools with the highest proportion of minority students" (1990 13). No doubt there may be some study I have missed, but my guess is that the teaching of Sioux or Iroquois—Native American—literatures in American high school and college courses generally occurs so infrequently and irregularly that the statistics are hardly even worth compiling.
So Professor Clausen is safe, at least for the moment—for all that one could , of course, make the case that high school students might actually learn more from a careful reading of Walker's novel (not my favorite book by an African American writer) than from Romeo and Juliet —which, according to the survey reported in the Times , tops the list of Shakespeare plays assigned. And, so far as American literature is concerned, one could also make the case that any number of African American, Native American, and Latino/a writers might be studied with at least as much pleasure and profit as Cooper, Longfellow, Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, or some of the other elite, WASP males who have traditionally been offered as among the best and brightest of American literary production.
Given the social and political demands of American
women and minorities of late, given the demands of colonized peoples from Africa to Armenia, to be heard, I can understand why Cheney and Bennett and Clausen feel threatened on the cultural front. I don't, however, know any particular reason why Emerson's pride in the achievement of transcontinental communication should need to affirm itself by means of a direct contrast to the presumed absence of artistic and scientific achievement among the Iroquois or D/Lakota (the Sioux). The obvious general reason for calumniating the Indians in order to praise Euramericans is, of course, the one Roy Harvey Pearce documented more than thirty-five years ago in his seminal Savagism and Civilization . There, Pearce showed how, from the first days of settlement, Americans regularly tended to define their own particular brand of "civilization" in direct opposition to a fantasized, or ideologically constructed Indian "savagery." In a simplified formulation, to be an American was no longer to be a European without yet becoming an Indian.
What is curious to note is that by 1860 or so, when Emerson wrote these lines, the need to praise white "civilization" by opposing it to red "savagism" was—in Emerson's Massachusetts, at least, if not in the Dakotas or New Mexico—already an anachronism. It is even more of an anachronism today—if, that is, one agrees, as I do, with James Clifford, that the "future is not (only) monoculture" (1988 16). Indeed, I believe the multicultural "future" is already here; nonetheless, inasmuch as monocultural supremacy is still promoted at the highest institutional levels, those of us who would speak for multiculturalism must continue to argue on its behalf.
As I said in the introduction, I understand the term multiculturalism to refer to that conceptualization and organization of cultural studies in the university which engages the
other in such a way as to provoke an interrogation of and a challenge to what we take as ours. In a certain sense, indeed, the term multiculturalism is redundant if, as I have suggested, culture is best conceived in a manner analogous to Bakhtin's conception of language as a socially plural construct in which our own speech is never entirely and exclusively our own, but always heteroglossic and polyvocal, formed always in relation to the speech of others. As Bakhtin says, "language lies on the borderline between oneself and the other. The word in language is half someone else's" (in Clifford 1988 41)—as culture is always, if not "half someone else's," at least never all one's own. No more than language as a medium of actual communication could culture in historical time ever be pure; only as the projection of an idealized logic could one posit either a strictly pure speech or culture.
A multicultural approach to the teaching of literature thus is consistent with the project of anti-imperialist translation, as I have tried to outline it in chapter 5, where I appropriated Benjamin's citation of Pannwitz's remarks as an encouragement to permit one's "own" language or culture to be powerfully affected by the language or culture of the foreigner, by values and attitudes "we" had defined as Other and sought to engage only by means of domestication: by translation in the imperial sense. The intention is to dialogize dominant monologues, indeed, to show that dialogue is not an abstract ideal, nor is it only realized in—to refer specifically to Bakhtin's work—the "novel" in literature or "carnival" in society, but that it is everywhere. A multicultural commitment, then, does not particularly encourage one to urge additions to the curriculum or the canon in the name of (as I shall try to show) "diversity" or "tolerance" (important as these are), but, rather, to urge the deconstruction of all dichotomized paradigms of the us/them, West/Rest type,
and so to undo manichean allegories at every level. It should be fairly obvious that to proceed in this way has strong implications for a variety of possible reorganizations of the institutionalized pedagogical curriculum, and, too, for the reorganization of the social order. Sociopolitically, as I have said, the multicultural perspective finds expression in a commitment to cosmopolitan values as these do not only propose an ideal vision of what might be, nor an option strictly for a privileged class of intellectuals (this is another point to which I shall return), but, rather, as they claim to be implicit, in varying degrees, in all social interaction.
Why multiculturalism is opposed to all notions of Western cultural purity with its attendant arrogance should already be more than abundantly clear; why it is opposed to opposing monoculturalism in the name of such things as "diversity" and "tolerance" may not, however, be so clear. Let me try to explain by reference to Linda Kerber's paper, "Diversity and the Transformation of American Studies," which appeared not long ago in American Quarterly . Originally presented as the Presidential Address at the 1988 American Studies Association meeting, Kerber's views have more than personal authority.
Kerber notes that the sixties and seventies insisted "on the importance of race" while "the insistence of the eighties is [now "was"] on the importance of ethnicity" (423). She does not hesitate to recognize that this "valorization—even romanticization—of ethnicity has been energized in part as a backlash against black people's claims for equity and for power. 'Nobody here but us ethnics,'" she shrewdly notes, "has been a parochial slogan used to mask real issues of race and power" (423). Kerber's considerations of the issues of power in regard to race and gender—questions of class, in
the manner typical of American academic liberalism, are not taken seriously as influences on identity, cultural or social, or as constituents of literary value—are all aspects of some unspecified but positive value Kerber names "diversity." Kerber never uses the term multiculturalism, and its absence from her discourse seems not merely a preference for one rather than another of two generally synonymous terms, but, instead, signals a difference in values.
Kerber associates the "diversity" she approves in "American Studies" with the broader ethical and epistemological values (the political as such is, again, off limits) of "cosmopolitanism." Her understanding of the term comes most immediately from an essay by David Hollinger. But Hollinger's "liberal cosmopolitan" (my emphasis) is rather different from the cosmopolitanism I have been linking to multiculturalism and ethnocriticism.
We encourage diversity, Kerber affirms, to "'move toward . . . a cosmopolitanism that is both a more complete human experience and a more [comprehensive] under-
standing of that experience'" (Kerber 423). These words are from Hollinger, whom, in an endnote, Kerber quotes more fully. Hollinger writes:
The "cosmopolitanism" to which I refer is the desire to transcend the limitations of any and all particularisms in order to achieve a more complete human experience and a more complete understanding of that experience. The ideal is decidedly counter to the eradication of cultural differences, but counter also to their preservation in parochial form. Rather, particular cultures and subcultures are viewed as repositories for insights and experiences that can be drawn upon in the interests of a more comprehensive outlook on the world. (Hollinger, in Kerber 430, my emphases)
Now, this is to resurrect for our time a "cosmopolitanism"—as Hollinger explains in the article from which Kerber quotes—embraced by "the Liberal Intelligentsia" (emphasis mine) roughly from the 1920s to the 1950s. I want to offer a brief critique of this liberal cosmopolitanism as defined by Hollinger and endorsed by Kerber, one that anyone left (or right) of liberalism can easily develop for her or himself. What I want to remark is a diction that, apparently innocent enough if taken abstractly—e.g., in terms, more or less, of the dictionary's generalized meanings for these words—in historical context has some very specific and, I think, not so innocent implications.
First, there is "the desire to transcend" actual cultural differences that, as "particularisms," are taken to be inherently limited. That the maintenance of the "boundary," as Fredrik Barth in a classic study of 1969 noted, is the essence of ethnic insularity (Barth would say identity), I do not dispute. But "particularisms" of whatever kind cannot in prac-
tice be transcended inasmuch as they are the pervasive and inevitable codes of culture in its situated and concrete social practice. There is, then, no moving beyond them—what I take Hollinger to mean by "transcend." Rather, one can only imagine their incorporation into more complex systems—complex not in the sense of some inherently greater sophistication, but, rather, complex in that they presume the interaction of several, many "particularisms," and presume this interaction in ways that have no historical antecedent, indeed, in ways that may not even have an existing referent. But however "complex" this larger system, it will inevitably have particularities—and so, also inevitably, limitations—of its own.
One would not, thus, be able to indulge any illusions of moving in the direction of a "more complete human experience," which, as Hollinger invokes it, appears to be an already known, fully articulated category. As such, this could be none other than the old Western humanistic ideal projected as a universal. Instead, one would be tentatively attempting to actualize new combinations of "particularisms," combinations which are brought into play only because they seem conducive to forms of "human experience" one takes as desirable. These could not claim a "more complete" human-ness—unless, that is, one believes in a point at which the human project would, indeed, be "completed" in history—but only alternative forms of human-ness, forms of cultural and social life that might be presented as "larger," better, whatever. Hollinger does, indeed, say that his form of cosmopolitanism would preserve "cultural differences," but, repeating the point about the limitations of particularisms, he says they would not do so "parochially." The question one might raise is who gets to decide which differences are "parochial" and which are
somehow in the interest of that "more complete human experience" so much desired. "[P]articular cultures and subcultures" (but, again, "sub-" from whose vantage point, in whose definition? forever sub- or with a potential for parity or dominance, etc.) are to become museums, or, more literally, savings banks of significant difference, "repositories . . . that can be drawn upon in the interests of a more comprehensive outlook on the world." But I think this comprehensiveness, like the aforementioned completeness Hollinger projects, suspiciously recalls the sort of unself-critical humanistic universalism one had thought quite thoroughly discredited by now.
In an introductory note to his essay, Hollinger remarks that
Adherents of the cosmopolitan ideal have often made supportive references to cultural pluralism in the interests of promoting the common cause of "tolerance." (57)
The difference between "cultural pluralism" and liberal cosmopolitanism is
the commitment of the former to the survival and nurturing of the ethnic group as such. While cosmopolitanism is inherently suspicious of ethnic particularism, cultural pluralism actually prescribes it and envisions a society full of particular groups, each respecting one another. (57)
Linda Kerber's "diversity," I suspect, is the 1980s–1990s version of 1920s "tolerance." To the extent that this is so, it is indeed useful as a defense against the "Americanizers"—of the 1860s, of 1915–1922, or of 1980–1992—but it is quite empty as a positive program in its own right. Rather than
the liberal cosmopolitanism of Hollinger and Kerber, sometimes consistent with "cultural pluralism" and "ethnic particularism" in the name of "tolerance" and "diversity," I would propose, as more nearly consistent with multiculturalism and ethnocriticism, the somewhat more radical cosmopolitanism defined by Paul Rabinow. I have discussed Rabinow's cosmopolitanism in a different context elsewhere, and foreshadowed my understanding of it above, so here I will try to be as brief and as little repetitious as I can.
In an essay called "Representations Are Social Facts: Modernity and Postmodernity in Anthropology," Rabinow proposes what he calls a "critical cosmopolitanism," one which would, in a variety of contexts, have a force "oppositional" (258) to the determinations of monoculturalists foremost, but also to those of liberal cosmopolitans. Rabinow's "critical cosmopolitanism" is
suspicious of sovereign powers, universal truths, overly relativized preciousness, local authenticity, moralisms high and low. Understanding is its second value ["The ethical is the guiding value"], but an understanding suspicious of its own imperial tendencies. It attempts to be highly attentive to (and respectful of) difference, but it is also wary of the tendency to essentialize difference. (258)
We live in between . . . insider's outsiders of a particular historical and cultural world; not members of a projected universal regime (under God, the imperium, or the laws of reason). (258)
Rabinow's ethical and epistemological cosmopolitanism has a wider—a global—frame of reference than that of the tolerance, diversity, or "cosmopolitanism" of the "liberal intelligentsia." For all that Rabinow says little about any politics his cosmopolitanism might found beyond the academy, its model of cultural mapping has implications not only for understanding but also, I believe, for changing the world.
In this regard, I should note that Hollinger has remarked with considerable realistic acumen that "Full-blown cosmopolitanism"—and, I would assume this might, on the face of it, hold both for "liberal" or more radical versions of cosmopolitanism—from the twenties to the fifties "was understood to be a realistic ideal primarily for intellectuals" (57). Liberal cosmopolitanism, and, surely, any other cosmopolitanism, represents a conscious choice of values on the part of those who have experienced, or, at least read widely. To the extent that this is so, cosmopolitan values are not, therefore, likely to appeal to many outside the "intelligentsia." In a period like our own, when most people's experience of anything very much beyond their immediate surroundings is experience presented by television—which, of course, has replaced reading as the primary source of other than immediately personal experience, and of information—it certainly is not easy to have wider hopes for cosmopolitan values than those Hollinger historically describes. About the only populist hope a radical cosmopolitanism (as I have tried to define it in relation to Bakhtin, progressive translation, multiculturalism, and ethnocriticism) might have beyond that of a liberal cosmopolitanism resides in the fact that it doesn't quite ask people simply to discard ethnic and local attachments for more global ones, but, rather—to appropriate a recent catchphrase—to try to
see how the local is already global, the ethnic and regional already shot through with other and distant perspectives. Nonetheless, as I think of the major news stories during the time I have worked on this book—the election of Violeta Chamorro in Nicaragua, the unification of the two Germanies, and a war in the Persian Gulf determined to produce and sustain the illusion of victory no matter the cost in Arab lives—it is indeed difficult to be optimistic in regard to any form of cosmopolitan social order. But this is not to say that nothing can be done.
Without overestimating the potential of curricular multiculturalism or ethnocritical discourse as politically functional in any direct or immediate manner—indeed one must remember in a cautionary fashion the example of those deconstructionists or postmodernists who affirmed or continue to affirm each of their readings as radical, subversive, transgressive, revolutionary, while the walls of Jericho showed no sign of tumbling down—still, one must not underestimate the possibilities of cultural work either. Yes, as Rabinow writes, and as James Clifford agrees, we are all
already cosmopolitans: the problem is that many in power have yet to accede to that face—a fact which, obviously enough, threatens their power.
Moreover—and this to me is more important even than the opinion of "those in power"—many marginalized people wish to maintain the ethnic "boundary" in the interest of, in Werner Sollors's phrase, "generating feelings of dissociative belonging " (1990 299 my emphasis), feelings which, however "dissociative," nonetheless serve to promote positive constructions of "minority" identity and worth. Inasmuch as ethnic and minority groups regularly suffer the representational and material disdain of the dominant society, it is not casually that one would recommend to them cosmopolitan values that may well seem a luxury beyond their current means. Nonetheless, for reasons I hope have become clear throughout this book, for the long term I believe exclusionary or "dissociative" strategies are inherently limited. Indeed, I find it of considerable interest (and admirable, too) that, although Werner Sollors's reputation as a critic rests on his assertion of the importance of ethnicity as a category, he nonetheless concludes the recent essay from which I have just quoted as follows:
Although ethnicity remains potentially one of the most interesting aspects of modern literature around the world and opens many new possibilities for examining great [!] texts on a comparative basis, it is hardly an exaggeration to state that it may also bring out the worst in readers of literature. (1990 304)
Thus it seems to me that culture workers have more than merely abstract incentive to encourage multiculturalism and to practice ethnocriticism in the interest of promoting those cosmopolitan values that socially may found what I
have elsewhere called the polyvocal polity: the materialization of dialogic values in institutions other than carnival .
To say these things is, admittedly and unfortunately, to be no more than generally hortatory, and I confess to being unable to describe more specifically the shape those institutions might take. But it would be a mistake to assume that my own limitations are exactly those of ethnocriticism, multiculturalism, cosmopolitanism, and polyvocal politics: these name possibilities yet to be realized, neither fantasies nor daydreams, but, rather, plans for the future.
I began this conclusion by quoting Emerson at—on? against?—the Indians. I will end it by quoting the Indians at—on? against?—Emerson: by closing, that is, with some lines from no Sioux or Iroquois or cannibal, but from two contemporary Native American poets, Wendy Rose, of Hopi-Miwok background, and Jimmie Durham, a Cherokee. Wendy Rose writes:
It's not that your songs
are so much stronger
or your feet more deeply
rooted, but that
so many of you
shouting in a single voice
like a giant child. (38)
And Jimmie Durham:
In school I learned of heroic discoveries
Made by liars and crooks. The courage
of millions of sweet and true people
Was not commemorated.
Let us then declare a holiday
For ourselves, and make a parade that begins
With Columbus' victims and continues
Even to our grandchildren who will be named
In their honor. (11)
Gardiner, New York