Here is what I am not saying. I am not saying that Yale shouldn’t offer a rich panoply of courses on women writers, queer writers, writers with disabilities, and writers of color. And they do! In addition to featuring names like Elizabeth Bishop and Ralph Ellison in its survey classes, the course catalog presents such titles as “Women Writers from the Restoration to Romanticism,” “Race and Gender in American Literature,” “American Artists and the African American Book,” “The Spectacle of Disability,” “Asian American Literature,” “Chaucer and Discourses of Dissent,” “Postcolonial World Literature: 1945-present,” “Black Literature and U.S. Liberalism”… and I’m not even counting the cross listings with the Comparative Literature, American Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies departments.
Moreover, I am not arguing that it is acceptable for an English major to graduate from college having only read white male authors, or even 70 percent white male authors. But you cannot profess to be a student of English literature if you have not lingered in the slipstreams of certain foundational figures, who also happen to be (alas) both white and male: In addition to the Majors listed above, Jonson, Shelley, Keats, Pound, Auden, and Frost. This is frustrating, unfair, and 100 percent nonnegotiable. (But hey, try to have some fun reading Frost? You could do so much worse!)
Here's what I'm saying: the canon of English literature is glorious.The canon of English literature is sexist. It is racist. It is colonialist, ableist, transphobic, and totally gross. You must read it anyway.
And that statement of fact requires no caveats or "trigger warnings" or apologies.
On the other hand, all the stuff that's studied in the context of "race" and "gender" and "postcolonialism": that's a bunch of crap.
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