LOOSE CANONS: Notes on the Culture Wars by

LOOSE CANONS: Notes on the Culture Wars

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A distinguished scholar fires his salvo in the Battle of the Books now raging in academe over opening core curricula to non-Western works by women and people of color. In these collected essays, Gates (African-American Studies and English/Harvard; co-ed., The Slave's Narrative, 1984) notes that the analysis of texts has become ""a marionette theater of the political""--but thinks that it has been ever thus for conservatives, who have long sustained ""the hegemony of the Western tradition."" Gates feels that the fruits of his specialty should be integrated into the teaching of all students of all races--a centrist position between separatists of the left such as Leonard Jeffries and the inevitable academic bogeymen of the right, Allan Bloom and William J. Bennett. Gates makes the case for multiculturalism as persuasively and eloquently as any advocate has to date: ""If we relinquish the ideal of America as a plural nation, common sense tells us that we've abandoned the very experiment that America represents."" Yet while at times these pieces throw off such strong reminders of their author's passion, wit, and immense talent that one can forgive his facile, shrill caricature of opponents (do all critics of multiculturalism really want to return to ""the thrilling days of yesterday, when God was in His heaven and all was white with the world""?), only in his MLA address, ""Goodbye, Columbus? Critical Remarks,"" does he acknowledge excessive political correctness among multiculturalists. Two Sam Spade parodies that name a group of canon conspirators provide the only stylistic relief among these essays, which generally are repetitious and overloaded with eye-glazing phrases from critical theory (""autotelic artifacts,"" ""discursive subjects,"" and ""tropes,"" etc.). Ironically, Gates's attempt to broaden the audience for the excluded fails for the simplest of reasons: It is written in narrowly constricting academic jargon.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1992
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press