Late-twentieth-century literary, pedagogic, and social movement.
A literary and social ideology that presupposes that all cultural value systems are equally worthy of study, multiculturalism has permeated numerous aspects of American life since the 1960s. Growing out of the civil rights and feminist movements and reflecting America's increasingly pluralistic, multiethnic society, multiculturalist ideals have influenced literature, art, popular culture, media, education, and legal and social policy. In response to greater globalization, and due to the questioning of the entire concept of assimilation, the social model for American society has shifted away from the image of the “melting pot”—according to which minorities gave up their individual identity to integrate fully with general society—and moved towards a model where unique ethnic identities remain intact and contribute to the greater good.
While educational curricula have adjusted to mirror a less Eurocentric worldview and to compensate for the lack of attention paid to non-Western cultures over the past century, critics have begun debating the problems inherent with institutionalizing multiculturalism. For example, some have argued that the pendulum has swung too far, resulting in the unwarranted dismissal or ignoring of scholarship from Caucasian academics as well as multiculturalist-driven syllabi that routinely attack aspects of Western civilization. Other commentators have suggested that the categories of multicultural study have become too rigid and deterministic, defining groups of writers too narrowly and without taking into account individual talent and independence of mind. The very notion of defining population groups primarily by ethnicity continues to be argued, with pundits noting the wealth of inconsistencies and discrepancies inherent in such forms of classification. Certain scholars have additionally observed the repression, or even suppression, of academic dialogue on certain topics—for example, racism and the cultural role of Jews—that have been deemed too inflammatory or problematic within a multicultural context.
Critical discussion of multiculturalism has been augmented by the increased need for international communication and mutual understanding in the modern world. Several of the more extreme varieties of multiculturalism have been softened through academic practice and experience—many literary critics have called for a return to the evaluation of works of literature solely as works of art, rather than as reflections of a particular culture. Others have continued to voice their dissatisfaction with the slow progress of multiculturalism, emphasizing that the changes instituted in education, art, and society remain superficial at best.
John Alberti, editor
Canon in the Classroom: The Pedagogical Implications of Canon Revision in American Literature (criticism) 1995
Rudolfo A. Anaya
Bless Me, Ultima (novel) 1972
Comparative Literature in the Age of Multiculturalism (criticism) 1995
Hami K. Bhabha
The Location of Culture (criticism) 1994
Selling Illusions (criticism) 1994
Lil Brannon and Brenda M. Greene
Rethinking American Literature (criticism) 1997
Coming to America (criticism) 1990
Literature Lost: Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities (criticism) 1997
The Antelope Wife (novel) 1998
Bruce A. Goebel and James C. Hall, editors
Teaching a “New Canon”?: Students, Teachers, and Texts in the College Literature Classroom (criticism) 1995
Avery F. Gordon
Mapping Multiculturalism (criticism) 1996
Rethinking the Borderlands: Between Chicano and Legal Discourse (criticism) 1995
Hena Maes-Jelinek, Kirsten Holst Petersen, and Anna Rutherford, editors
A Shaping of Connections: Commonwealth Literature Studies—Then and Now (essays and...
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Criticism: Overviews And General Studies
SOURCE: Whitfield, Stephen J. “The Mystique of Multiculturalism.” Virginia Quarterly Review 72, no. 3 (summer 1996): 429-45.
[In the following essay, Whitfield traces the evolution of multiculturalism as a field of academic study within the disciplines of history and literature since the 1950s, identifying several theoretical discrepancies and inconsistencies in multicultural scholarship.]
Little more than a century ago, the Atlantic Monthly published a poem entitled “The Unguarded Gates” by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, one of those authors whom a Tammany Hall wit was fond of dismissing as “name-parted-in-the-middle aristocrats”:
Wide open and unguarded stand our gates, And through them presses a wild motley throng— Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes, Featureless figures from the Hoang-Ho, Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav, Flying the Old World's poverty and scorn; These bring with them unknown gods and rites, Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws. In street and alley what strange tongues are these, Accents of menace alien to our air, Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
Nativism has hardly disappeared, and yet the gates are still unguarded. But the historian can only express astonishment at the alteration of national ethos, as diversity has ceased to be something to be feared and has become something to be celebrated. The...
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SOURCE: Smoot, Jeanne J. “Multiculturalism, Censorship, and the Postmodern Assault on the Canon: Classical Answers to Contemporary Dilemmas.” Comparatist 24 (May 2000): 30-8.
[In the following essay, Smoot examines several of the dominant theories which helped multiculturalism reshape the literary canon in higher education in the United States.]
If we accept the simple premise that what we read influences who we are, then curricular matters in general and the concept of a canon in particular have profound political implications. Almost any dictator seeks to restrict what his subjects read, to control the flow of information, ideas, and philosophies. A free society, then, sustains itself by fostering an expansive and open canon. The idea of a literary canon itself suggests standards, the upholding or at least the respect for excellence in writing, creative expression, and dynamic ideas. The elasticity of this canon insures freedom, the ventilation of opposing ideas, and the development of new ways of thinking. James Madison makes a similar argument in Federalist Paper No. 10 to support, not the idea of an open canon, but democratic government and the need for factions in a free society.
Ironically today the notion of a canon is under attack from the very institution that in the past has been its primary incubator, the academy. Even more ironic, the canon is often under siege in the...
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SOURCE: Grobman, Laurie. “Toward a Multicultural Pedagogy: Literary and Nonliterary Traditions.” MELUS 26, no. 1 (spring 2001): 221-40.
[In the following essay, Grobman explores how multicultural literature has—or has not—been integrated into the teaching of modern literary theory, commenting that, “[w]hen we allow and encourage our students to consider a text in its many literary and nonliterary traditions, we bring students into the debates of multiculturalism.”]
INTRODUCTION: MULTICULTURAL CRITICAL BACKGROUNDS
Over the last two decades, coincident with the broadening of the literary canon, multicultural scholars have produced a vast amount of critical and pedagogical literature. Despite these advances, though, and despite a broad consensus about the moral and political goals of our work in and out of the classroom—that we have, as Doris Davenport suggests, a “moral imperative” (66) to teach it—we lack a coherent pedagogy. John Alberti accurately asserts that multicultural scholarship has adequately addressed changing the texts we bring to class but inadequately addressed what we do with those texts in the classroom (xi-xii). Our natural inclination leads us to familiar ways of reading and teaching, but most scholars now recognize that conventional methods may not work in a multicultural literature classroom. However, the responses to this...
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SOURCE: TuSmith, Bonnie. “The Significance of the ‘Multi’ in ‘Multiethnic Literatures of the U.S.’” MELUS 26, no. 2 (summer 2002): 5-14.
[In the following essay, derived from a lecture delivered at the 2001 MELUS Conference, TuSmith challenges teachers to deal directly and frankly with the issue of race and racial identity in teaching multicultural texts.]
“She starts up the stairs to bed. ‘Don't get me up with the rest in the morning.’ ‘But I thought you were having midterms.’ ‘Oh, those,’ she comes back in, kisses me, and says quite lightly, ‘in a couple of years when we'll all be atom-dead they won't matter a bit.’” Some of you will no doubt recognize this passage from Tillie Olsen's often-anthologized mother-daughter story, “I Stand Here Ironing.” Well, half a century after the publication of the daughter Emily's glum prediction, we're still here. In a way, studying, reading, and writing imaginative literature implicates all of us in Emily's worldview. “Why bother?” outsiders ask us—and at times we ask ourselves. Today, American youth say “AS IF …”—or, “Do I care?”—to render this point. Obviously, some of us—we “suckers” at this conference, for example—do care. And this is the foundation to build on.
As people who believe that literature by ethnic Americans matters, we have the opportunity to...
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Criticism: The Effects Of Multiculturalism On Global Literature
SOURCE: Rochman, Hazel. “Against Borders.” Horn Book Magazine 71, no. 2 (March-April 1995): 144-57.
[In the following essay, Rochman explores how multicultural literature can introduce readers—particularly young adults—to a diverse range of cultures, transcending social, political, and personal barriers.]
If anyone had told me when I was growing up in South Africa that I would be living in Chicago one day and writing about multiculturalism in children's books, I would have thought they were crazy. I thought my place was really off the map; nothing could happen there that would interest the rest of the world. And I thought there was nothing connecting us. My view of Chicago, in fact of all the United States, came from Hollywood musicals and cowboy movies, and from stories about gangsters like Al Capone. Even today, that's how many South Africans imagine things here.
In the same way, many people in the U.S. imagine that South Africa—the whole of Africa—is a steamy jungle with exotic wild animals and primitive natives and Tarzan and a few people on safari. Recently images of suffering, starving babies and massacre, have gotten mixed in with the stereotypes, but it's all a vague picture of dark, primitive Africa.
Who would have thought that Nelson Mandela would one day be the most famous person in the world? Who would have dreamed South Africa would have...
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SOURCE: Lützeler, Paul Michael. “Multiculturalism in Contemporary German Literature.” World Literature Today 168, no. 3 (summer 1995): 452-58.
[In the following excerpt, Lützeler argues that multicultural studies in Germany and Europe have been largely underdeveloped, noting several German authors who have composed works within a multiethnic context.]
A striking feature of today's culture debates is the postmodern criticism of the Modern, of the dire consequences of the Modern, of the frequently catastrophic burden of the legacy of their conceptualization of progress. This criticism, which can also be perceived as self-criticism of the Modern, is expressed in ecological, multicultural, feminist, and postcolonial discourses. The universalistic metanarratives of the Modern—to use Lyotard's terms—are being questioned here. Symptomatic of the postmodern frame of mind is the rejection of models of totality, which became most evident in the implosion of the communist states during the eighties and the early nineties.
If one wants to put a theoretical framework around the international discussion of culture, it is best to start with the theme of identity. According to Joachim Matthes, identity refers to the existence of elementary definitions—shared by a number of people—of truth and constancy as well as the translation of these definitions into regulations governing action and...
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SOURCE: Wang, Qun. “‘Double Consciousness,’ Sociological Imagination, and the Asian American Experience.” Race, Gender & Class: Asian American Voices 4, no. 3 (1997): 88-94.
[In the following essay, Wang examines the theme of personal identity in several works by Asian American writers, noting that the characters' emotional turmoil often stems from their struggle to harmonize two different social roles.]
The sociological imagination enables its possessor to understand the larger historical scene in terms of its meaning for the inner life and the external career of a variety of individuals. It enables him to take into account how individuals, in the welter of their daily experience, often become falsely conscious of their social positions. Within that welter, the framework of modern society is sought, and within that framework the psychologies of a variety of men and women are formulated. By such means the personal uneasiness of individuals is focused upon explicit troubles and the indifference of publics is transformed into involvement with public issues (C. Wright Mills, 1959).
The term “double consciousness” was first used by African American sociologist and educator W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) Du Bois in his much celebrated book, The Souls of Black Folk (1903). It describes the experience of African Americans who are caught in the clash of two cultures:...
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SOURCE: Dabydeen, Cyril. “Places We Come From: Voices of Caribbean Canadian Writers (in English) and Multicultural Contexts.” World Literature Today 73, no. 2 (spring 1999): 231-37.
[In the following essay, Dabydeen comments on the works of several multiethnic Caribbean Canadian writers, analyzing how their unique cross-cultural perspectives are changing the body of Canadian literature.]
The recent special “Canadian Caribbean Issue” of Descant (Summer 1998) suggests a journey and a maturing of Canadian literature in terms of the latter's flexibility and capacity to be all-embracing, without undermining Canada's identity; moreover, this attitude strengthens the nation's spirit and sense of continuing possibilities in a land which, since its inception, has been formed by immigration and continuing to grow on its “triangular foundation” (John Ralston Saul) of First Nations Peoples and English Canadian and French Canadian heritages. Caribbean links and correspondences with Canada, of course, have been manifold, varied, down through the ages and associated early with the Maroons and with the Atlantic trade and mercantilism. Salted cod from Newfoundland exported to the Caribbean is still special to the palate, for instance. And whenever I contribute material to the three main literary magazines in Canada's Maritime—The Fiddlehead, The Dalhousie...
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Criticism: Multicultural Themes In Specific Contemporary Works
SOURCE: Clifford, Caroline. “The Music of Multiculturalism in Leïla Sebbar's Le Chinois vert d'Afrique.” French Review 68, no. 1 (October 1994): 52-60.
[In the following essay, Clifford discusses the treatment of “les croisés”—characters who belong to more than one culture—as depicted in Leïla Sebbar's Le Chinois vert d'Afrique.]
Set in the present-day France of the increasing cultural tensions between immigrants and French de vieille souche, of the rising popularity of the Front National, and of a perceived need to defend French cultural purity, Leïla Sebbar's novels give a voice to the Beur children and other croisés growing up between the culture of their parents and that of the country in which they live. Sebbar ultimately affirms these children's right not to choose between cultures, but to incorporate distinct cultural particularities within a new composite identity. In Le Chinois vert d'Afrique (1984), she shows the characters with multiple cultural ties as more autonomous, less conscious of or limited by cultural boundaries, and ultimately more interesting than the characters that exist squarely within the French culture. Twelve-year-old Momo, of Vietnamese/Algerian father and Turkish mother, and fifteen-year-old Myra, of Italian mother and Moroccan father, emerge as strong and independent. On the other hand, the two French police officers, Bonnin and...
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SOURCE: Bowen, Deborah. “Spaces of Translation: Bharati Mukherjee's ‘The Management of Grief.’” ARIEL: A Review of International English Literature 28, no. 3 (July 1997): 48-60.
[In the following essay, Bowen evaluates how the protagonist of Bharati Mukherjee's short story “The Management of Grief” functions as a bridge between Indian and Canadian society by employing a new language of hybridity that takes into account universal human emotions.]
The word “translation” comes, etymologically, from the Latin for “bearing across.” Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately, to the notion that something can also be gained.
Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands
In the final article of the special January 1995 issue of PMLA on “Colonialism and the Postcolonial Condition,” Satya Mohanty observes that “vital cross-cultural interchange depends on the belief that we share a ‘world’ (no matter how partially) with the other culture, a world whose causal relevance is not purely intracultural” (114). There are occasions on which such a shared world is traumatically imposed upon diverse groups of people. If ever there were an occasion for a human compassion that transcends boundaries of race and...
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SOURCE: Kanoza, Theresa M. “The Golden Carp and Moby Dick: Rudolfo Anaya's Multi-Culturalism.” MELUS 24, no. 2 (summer 1999): 159-71.
[In the following essay, Kanoza identifies parallels between Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, arguing that Anaya's multicultural style embraces Indian myth, biblical references, and echoes from the traditional literary canon.]
In Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya presents a world of opposites in the New Mexican village of Guadalupe. The parents of the young protagonist Antonio have strikingly different temperaments, as dissimilar to each other as the backgrounds from which they hail. Maria Luna Marez, the pious daughter of Catholic farmers from the fertile El Puerto valley, steers her son toward the priesthood and a ministry in an agrarian settlement. Gabriel Marez, Antonio's adventurous father, is descended from a long line of nomadic horsemen; he expects his son to share his wanderlust, and he hopes that as compadres they will explore the vanishing llano (plains). The thrust of Anaya's bildungsroman, however, is not that maturation necessitates exclusionary choices between competing options, but that wisdom and experience allow one to look beyond difference to behold unity.
Historic continuity and spiritual harmony are recurrent strains in much of Anaya's work as he often laments...
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SOURCE: Little, Jonathan. “Beading the Multicultural World: Louise Erdrich's The Antelope Wife and the Sacred Metaphysic.” Contemporary Literature 41, no. 3 (fall 2000): 495-524.
[In the following essay, Little focuses on Louise Erdrich's treatment of culture and personal identity in The Antelope Wife, characterizing Erdrich's depiction of both as fluid and continually evolving.]
In his recent study of multiculturalism, philosophy, and identity, Satya P. Mohanty criticizes the debilitating insularity of identity politics on the one hand and liberalism's universals on the other. Mohanty charts a postpositivist space between these two positions that combines relativism's antifoundational insights about the historical entanglements of knowledge with liberalism's social hope. Attacking traditional empiricism by stressing subjective knowledge, Mohanty claims that objective knowledge “is based on a conception of human inquiry as profoundly historical and socially mediated; no a priori incorrigible epistemological principles are possible. … we do not only ‘discover’ reality; we ‘make’ it as well” (193). Therefore, “cultural diversity [should be] based on the claim that ‘cultures’ are fields of moral inquiry, with room for objective knowledge as well as for error or mystification. Multiculturalism … should be defined as a form of epistemic cooperation across cultures”...
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SOURCE: Teverson, Andrew S. “Fairy Tale Politics: Free Speech and Multiculturalism in Haroun and the Sea of Stories.” Twentieth Century Literature 47, no. 4 (winter 2001): 444-68.
[In the following essay, Teverson explores Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories as “a complex allegory that emphasizes the importance of exchange between different cultural groupings,” comparing it with such works as Arabian Nights, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.]
Jacobites must speak in children's rhymes, As preachers do in Parables, sometimes.
Late in his life, either in the latter decades of the twelfth century or the first decades of the thirteenth, there is evidence that Farid ud-Din Attar, the Sufi mystic and poet, fell afoul of the Persian authorities and was charged with heresy. He had, according to Edward G. Browne, “aroused the anger and stirred up the persecuting spirit of an orthodox theologian” who denounced him as “a heretic deserving death” and caused his works to be burned, his property to be ransacked, and Attar himself to be sent from his homeland to hide (in Attar's own words) “like a ruby in Badakhstan” (Browne 509).1 As with much of Attar's biography, the exact nature of his offense is obscure, although it is reasonable to assume, on the basis of...
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Alaimo, Stacy. “Multiculturalism and Epistemic Rupture: The Vanishing Acts of Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Alfredo Véa, Jr.” MELUS 25, no. 2 (summer 2000): 164-85.
Alaimo discusses the theories of Gómez-Peña and Véa, Jr. regarding the perspective of the “subject”—or “Anglo consciousness”—toward the object, or “the Other,” in multicultural studies.
Carpenter, Carole H. “Enlisting Children's Literature in the Goals of Multiculturalism.” Mosaic 29, no. 3 (September 1996): 53-73.
Carpenter explores ways in which children's literature serves to “colonize and politicize” readers and draws parallels to the treatment of “minorities” in multicultural literature.
D'Souza, Dinesh. Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus, New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books, 1992, 319 p.
D'Souza presents a detailed examination of the treatment of race, gender, and multiculturalism at several universities in the United States.
Ferraro, Thomas J. Ethnic Passages: Literary Immigrants in Twentieth-Century America, Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, 1993, 229 p.
Ferraro focuses on literature by and about twentieth-century immigrants in the U.S., ranging from Mario Puzo's The Godfather to Maxine Hong Kingston's The...
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