The Heath Anthology in the News

Dialogue continues to flow on the issues of canon formation, multiculturalism, curriculum reform, and political correctness (or incorrectness.) The Heath Anthology is often centrally involved in the debate. What follows are excerpts from some recent articles.

In an article entitled, "Art and a Better America" appearing in the Summer 1991 issue of American Literary History journal, Richard Ruland, says, "The current rewriting of American literary history is most readily examined in new anthologies and fresh editions of familiar ones, not, it seems, in compilations like the Columbia Literary History of the United States."

"An anthology," Ruland states, " is a defining statement, though not a definitive one. Like a dictionary, it describes our practice at a specific historical moment-which is why both must be repeatedly rewritten."

Near the end of his detailed review of the Heath Anthology, Ruland expresses reservation: "This book will make a better America by acquainting all of us with minds and hearts as yet unknown to our philosophy, by providing a richly stocked warehouse, a crowded two-volume library for thoughtful browsing. But it will doubtless prove most useful for those who can see how new complements old, less so for the casual reader or the student unfamiliar with the wider implications of this cafeteria of choices."

In the June 26, 1991 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Erickson engages the issue of how multiculturalism enters into the debate over canon construction and literary study:

He asserts, ". . . those of us who believe in the value of multicultural analysis in literary studies must do a better job of explaining to a wider public why multiculturalism is a legitimate and indispensable concept. It is especially crucial to communicate how the concept contributes to the revision of the literary canon."

He continues, "At one extreme is the claim that the basic structure of the canon remains intact even when the list of authors is revised: The components are altered, but the framework remains untouched. At the other extreme stands the claim that substantial revision leads to a total dissolution of the canon."

Concluding that, "no easy, smooth transition to a greatly expanded canon is possible," Erickson enters his plea for "a detailed examination of what happens when we try to combine classical works and contemporary works by women and minority authors."

Finally, he argues, "Multicultural criticism does not reject the idea of a common culture, as some commentators charge; rather, it opposes the traditionalist way of constructing a common culture through oversimplified appeals to a common heritage. . . "Rather than reject the ideal of a common culture, multiculturalism advocates a different, more complicated, route by which to achieve it. For the traditionalist critic, a common culture has already been achieved: One only has to accept and cherish it. For the multicultural critic, common culture is not a given; it has to be created anew by engaging the cultural differences that are part of American life."

Contents, No. VI