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Guillory has no side

I found it almost impossible to determine which side of the culture war of the canon Guillory is positioned dominantly on. He seems to instead review the contentions of both sides of this debate and, in a nutshell, demonstrate the short-sightedness of both.  A main kernel of Guillory’s argument is that syllabi in schools should not be selected based on the author’s social identification (obviously interesting in conversation with Barthes and Foucault) but based on what are “important and significant cultural works” (52). In the nearly impossible task of determining which side Guillory determines as less short-sighted (and maybe then providing a black and white answer for a really grey argument), this contention might lead us to a conclusion that Guillory is primarily arguing against those who place works in a canon based on author identification – those who have expanded the canon beyond its historical boundaries of white male authorship.

A conclusion that places Guillory on the conservative side of this debate, however, ignores the dual nature of his apprehensions regarding the culture war in curricula. So while it may be possible to argue that Guillory argues more strongly against the expansion of the canon based on author identification, it’s problematic to place him on one side of a line. If anything, he is more strongly objecting to one side of the line than the other, but he isn’t aligning with either.


Although at first I thought that Guillory was against the expansion of the canon , because he stated that works that are not included in a syllabus, are left out not as a method to exclude works that are written by minorities but because they don’t meet the criteria of the course (33). However as I kept reading I realized that he isn’t really taking a particular side, he was simply poking holes in the arguments of both sides. He argues that inclusion into the literary canon is not meant to be focused about the inclusion of works to represent specific culture communities, because he believes that the works shouldn’t and don’t speak for those communities.

He does however recognize that certain groups have been excluded in the past from the literary canon, but the exclusion of these minority groups such as women is based upon the fact that not many women had the tools to become writers, for very few of them were educated. However he also acknowledges that today women writers should be studied.

women are good at teaching!

I really wanted to compare the entire course offering between the women’s college and Rutgers to see how ridiculous math and science was represented in the Women’s college. The English courses provide a telling comparison. There is a singular focus in the English curriculum for women that points to: Become a teacher! (secondary education of course, let’s not get ahead of ourselves)

The descriptions of the speech classes and the other classes that focus on “pronunciation” are really limiting. The descriptions seem very simplistic. I also noticed the “national Independence of American literature”. I thought that was an interesting phrase because it marked a transition from a focus on classical studies and European works…Was this a common phrase of the time?

The theme writing courses…One was exposition/composition? One creative writing?
The home economic/phys ed. classes were predictable…

Rutgers and Douglass:
Douglass seems to be slightly ahead of the game as far as providing more in depth class offerings that are comparable to the men’s college. (I saw the word politics…that seems to be a first)
I also noticed an abundance of economics courses in the 1930 catalogue. This definitely seems like a catalogue reflecting the post WWI economic climate and more recently the 1929 stock market crash…hence the word “Problems” recurring in course titles.

On the banks of the old Raritan

In the 1930-1931 catalogue, I found an English course called “103. 104 Masterpieces of Literature” and it uses the phrase “world literature”! I wonder how early this phrase was used, and what it meant here, namely, what literatures were excluded.

I found a similar couse in the addendum: 111 and 112: Masterpieces of Literature – I sense a foreshadowing of our discussions of the English canon!
I wonder if this is a pre-comparative-literature moment, when the phrase “great literary works of the world” would have meant great literary works of America and Western Europe?

The three levels of the Speech classes in the addendum show an interesting development, and an emphasis on being able to speak with “correct pronunciation” and “proper voice placement” in public. Being able to read drama and blank verse was the highest of these three classes, before “theatre” might have been considered a separate department, I suppose.

?מדבר עברית // random pickings

Intriguing how Hebrew was offered as an “extra study” but only during the senior year. I understand  there were very limited “major” programs and it appears that schedules left little room if any for “electives.” Were electives a thing back then? And was there a large Jewish population in Rutgers at this time?

Also interesting how “history of the English language and literature” were taught under the first stage of English Literature courses in 1891. Nowadays we don’t care and are not taught such in university, nor even elementary school as far as I remember.

Reading the 1891 archives makes me feel not as smart as I am. The diction of it makes it read like a research paper; why is that? Was this a form of informal writing? Or was all writing even for the course catalogue expected to be formal in tone? “These curricula vary in length from 128 to 140 semester or credit hours and are planned to meet various educational needs and interests. Instead of being a miscellaneous collection of courses with a few required subjects each curriculum offers a program of study which has unity and continuity and presupposes that the student has a definite purpose in view . . . Should the student in the course of his four years find that he has mistaken his major interest and desire to enroll in another curriculum, he may do so; but he must fulfill all of the requirements of the curriculum to which he transfers” (58).

They still used the word “negro” in 1969 (79)? Smh.
“Experience of Literature” needs to make a comeback (80).
“Seminar in Negro Literature” and “Seminar in Black Literature” both existed in 1970 (85). Negros seem to be defined as blacks pre-WWII, blacks being post-WWII.
Omg at Nikki Giovanni teaching at Livingston College in 1971 and for Martin Gliserman being here since then (75).
The idea behind the marriage of “Science and Literature” seems to have largely disappeared (78). Livi College 1971-1972

Course Catalogues over the Years

The most obvious thing I noticed in reading through these catalogues is the direct emphasis of Latin and Greek. These were the primary requirements for anything, as well as Bible recitation in moral philosophy and the evidence of Christianity. Even the free elective choices consisted of only modern language, German, or French. Obviously, the spectrum of classes increased throughout the years. By the 1890-91 catalogues, many of the sciences were added. By 1922-23, European studies and even physical education were added.


It was not until the 1950-51 catalogue did the English classes look more like it does now. Classes like Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and literature by century were added. An interesting class I noticed was Voice and Diction, something that seemed to have disappeared from the requirements today. One aspect I noticed, though, was that despite the added classes, there were still no classes of African studies or Women studies offered. It is not until the 1969-70 catalogue do we see these classes appear. The Douglass College catalogue included “the educated woman in literature” and “the Negro expression in literature.” Needless to say, these titles are no longer proper. By the 1971-72 catalogue we now have an entire selection of Black literature offered, both historical and modern. As a current student, there are a lot of classes that caught my eye that I wish were still offered. Even classes like “science and literature” seem interesting, although I did take psychology and literature. Looking through these catalogues offers an interesting perspective on how literature has changed over the years what came to be recognized as important for English education.

Barthes and Ransom

“The explanation of the work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us.” (875)

Barthes similarly argues in his essay that basing a piece of writing on the author is to impose a limit on the text itself and almost ends up giving it a definite meaning.  This portion of his argument resembles Ransom’s argument that when studying a poem critics are meant to leave out any external forces related to the poem such history, the readers’ responses and the writers’ background. By excluding these forces the critic can focus on the poem itself and the literary techniques and tools, as well as the form of the poem in order to develop an interpretation. Although Barthes like Ransom bases his argument on the fact the interpenetrating and understanding a text should not be based upon the writer, unlike Ransom he believes that it should be based upon the reader, because the reader is the “destination” of the writing. So rather than focusing on the origin of the writing he wants us to focus on the destination, the reader, who doesn’t really have a history that can limit the writing.

The gendered economics of literature

“…it is unthinkable that any woman in Shakespeare’s day should have had Shakespeare’s genius. For genius like Shakespeare’s is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people. …Yet genius of a sort must have existed among women as it must have existed among the working classes” (600)

“One could not but play for a moment with the thought of what might have happened if Charlotte Bronte had possessed say three hundred a year — but thefoolish woman sold the copyright of of her novels outright for fifteen hundred pounds” (603)

In the “Shakespere’s Sister” and “Austen-Bronte-Eliot” passage of Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, a trope that particularly stood out to me was Woolf’s depiction of economic discrepancies of gender. More specifically, women are more or less members of a lower strata. Cultural ideas of women may be the source of this economic distinction, but it is important to note culture’s inseparable connection to labor and economy. The relationship between cultural product (literature) and economy that Woolf depicts is particularly intriguing in identifying the relationship between two concepts we sometimes distinguish from one another, and further, Woolf adds the dimension of gender as an economic variable. (Sociologist Vivianna Zelizer offers three different possibilities for this relationship between culture and economy, all of which can be picked out of Woolf’s writing.)

A little more concerning the first excerpt from “Shakespeare’s Sister” – I think this idea of the economically disenfranchised being incapable of “genius” might be problematic. Of course, it depends on the definition of “genius”. This is part of the eternal nature vs. nurture dichotomy. Here, Woolf seems to take an almost solely “nurture” approach, which is certainly supported by the value of an individual’s cognition being determined by social structure, especially in terms of cultural production (“genius” being defined as far as literature goes seems hugely subject to the social, especially in terms of education). Nonetheless, the idea of “genius” may not be totally nailed down by socio-cultural values.

A women’s literature

Woolf is calling for the creation of an as-yet-unrealized form of feminine literature, or the expression of poetry, which circumstances have denied women the creation of. Woolf’s descriptions are suggestive rather than proscriptive. I think her own emphasis on erudition is part of her desire to explain women’s literature in relation to pre-existing literary traditions:

“Indeed, since freedom and fullness of expression are of the essence of the art, such a lack of tradition, such a scarcity and inadequacy of tools, must have told enormously upon the writing of women. Moreover, a book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built, if an image helps, into arcades or domes…. There is no reason to think that the form of the epic or of the poetic play suits a woman any more than the sentence suits her. …Yet who shall say that even now ‘the novel’… that even this most pliable of all forms is rightly shaped for her use?”

This notion of feminine art is difficult to reconcile with the excerpt from The Androgynous Vision, and Woolf’s call for an androgynous mind which “does not think specially or separately of sex.” (608) This state of being seems to presuppose an environment in which one faces no gender-based oppression (although this is not explicitly stated). Thus, it seems to remain impossible for women, but not for men.

Two Kinds of Negations with Subtle, yet Important, Differences

The public as a vital (perhaps central?) dimension of literary experience and yet hostile force is the point Woolf pressures in her except of “Shakespeare’s Sister.” Woolf frames the two greatest immaterial difficulties the public represents to the male and female geniuses in the following: “The world did not say to her as it said to [Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius], Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?” (601).

Here, Woolf frames the different experienced relationships between the public and the gendered writers as well as projects an objective to writing depending on the sex of the author. For the man, the adversary of indifference indicates the objective of writing (for men) is to make a reaction and/or incite change. Woolf scrutinizes this as a position of privilege by presenting the image of the female author who cannot be admitted into literature at all. The female author envies the man of genius for having the opportunity to advance onto the world stage; yet, if there is no audience, how can any work live? The “guffaw” Woolf inserts is the rebuff of an egotistical, patriarchal society, yet the recognition of the individual, if even through the limitations of the sex to participate freely, excites the type of energy that the male author desires. Since the “guffaw” bruises the ego in assuming female writing cannot be useful–it cannot produce a “good” affect on society–the objective of writing for women is insinuated to be (initially, at least) utility. Being barred from the world stage is therefore the adversary, even though the public is, in fact, incited emotionally to “guffaw.”