the gapanese invasion is nigh!

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

reterritorializing american literature: reclaiming the position of ethnic american literature


Even in a corpus of literature deemed major like American literature, there exists a collection of literary texts that belongs to what is pejoratively labeled as minor literature. With minor, I borrow from Karen Caplan who asserted that “being ‘Minor’…is not a question of essence…but a question of position—a subject position that can only be defined, in the final analysis, in political terms, that is, in terms of the effects of economic exploitation, political disenfranchisement, social manipulation, and ideological domination on the formation of minority subjects and discourses.” Hence, in the midst of canonical writings like those by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings and other (mostly) white male literary heavyweights, minor literature by women, blacks, diasporic races (like our very own Jose Garcia Villa) and other Others has been made to play second fiddle. It does not matter if the minor literature possesses “‘enlightenment’ or ‘maturation’ of the individual as he becomes gradually integrated into the larger social whole,” according to Filipino postcolonialist Priscelina Patajo-Legasto; the fact that it was written by authors whose subject position is the West’ Other makes for its unfair qualification as a marginalized literature.
To this category do poems like Tato Laviera’s “Latero Story,” Cathy Song’s “Blue Lantern” and “The Youngest Daughter,” Garrett Hongo’s “Who Among You Knows the Essence of Garlic?” Bernice Zamora’s “On Living in Aztlan” and novels like Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony are designated. Because of Western hegemonic politics, these minor literary texts’ aesthetic value gets ignored and often in their inclusion in American literary studies, it is to the fulfillment of homogenizing and/or exoticizing ends. However, I wish to put forth an alternative possibility that in studying these texts side by side with the perceived canon of contemporary American writing, the project is to reclaim the position of ethnic American writers as legitimate parts of American literature. Through reterritorialization in this major body of literature, universal literature gets demythicized as dissident voices from the margins, i.e. Latinos like Laviera and Zamora, Asian-Americans like Song and Hongo and Native Americans like Silko become objects of serious literary studies, redeemed from what Walter Lowenfels laments as the genocidal rejection of writers of color juxtaposed against a literary pseudostandard that render them underrepresented. Ultimately, when the Western aesthetic ideologies are explained to work on behalf of Western hegemony but, simultaneously, to the detriment of writings considered minor politically, this subversion of universal literature will succeed in elevating minor literature from the margins.

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