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Is a Canon a Cannon?

Notes towards Day 16 of
Critical Feminist Studies

Is a Canon a Cannon?

Found in OE. as canon, a. L. canon rule, a. Gr. {kappa}{alpha}{nu}{gwacu}{nu} rule.

A Conversation Among
Katie Canon, Calderon, Jessy,
and the rest of us

I. Coursekeeping:
today @ noon, an "actual (?) strike for peace" in Taylor and Thomas (Weezie, more info?)

for next Tuesday, read Rosemarie Garland-Thomson's on-line paper,
Reshaping, Rethinking, Redefining: Feminist Disabilities Studies (2007).

Please note revised course home page, now featuring Gail's "Generous Feminism"!

Also invitation from Roz Cohen to come to D.C., stay with her, & see
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution @ The National Museum of Women and the Arts

Also: Lydia re interviews?

II. Tuesday, from bell hooks:

"the idea of womanness and femininity is totally personified by whiteness....this combinination of race and class longing that privileges the...ruling-class white woman, adored and kept, shrouded in luxury, does not imply a critique of patriarchy...white folks were there because the film in no way interrogates...a powerful colonizing seduces us away from ourselves...the point is not to give us fantasy but to recognize its limitations..." ("Is Paris Burning?")

III. Today, from Katie's Canon:

  • the ethical values that the Black community has fashioned for itself are not identical with the body of obligations and duties that Anglo-Protestant American society requires of its members....
  • on the one hand, my task as a Christian social ethicist is to transcend my blackness and femaleness and draft a blueprint of liberation ethics that somehow speaks to, or responds to, the universality of the human condition.
  • To prove that she is sufficiently intelligent, the Black woman as Christian ethicist must discount the particularities of her life's experiences and instead focus on the validity of generalizable external analytical data....
  • On the other hand, my task as a womanist liberation ethicist is to debunk, unmask, and disentangle the historically conditioned value judgments and power relations that undergird the particularities of race, sex, and class oppression....
  • these two tasks stand in opposition to each other....
IV. Do they?
Jessy: we are all part of the problem because we are all part of the system....What puzzles me is how to become part of the solution. How are we to go about dismantling the current status quo and erecting one in its place?

Flora: I see most classrooms set up as circuses....the professor is the ringmaster...or...each student takes turn performing the practiced trick, the perfect analysis or critique the way the ringmaster expects it.....The problem with both models is that they do not focus on developing the thoughts and agency of each individual student....The second model especially provokes a sense of competition.....

So...I've been trying to think of practical solutions that will make me (dare I say it) happy. And I have this advice, that is making a huge difference in my life right now:...I stop saying "no" in my head and start asking "why?" This response is so important to me. When I ask why, I get less upset. When I ask why, I can separate the person from her thoughts and even think about the ways in which her experiences may have shaped those thoughts. I can think about my reaction and wonder why I reacted so strongly to that suggestion....I am preparing for life outside of academia now. And I think this class is helping me in huge ways.
Applying this to the use-value of Judith Butler's work: 
smigliori: If gender performance is not a choice, then what's the point of it all? Why does Butler's theory matter?...gender is a social construct, with no real basis.

sarahcollins: Butler would say that there is no reality, only the rules by which the members...judge "realness" of the most interesting points Butler makes is that not all drag is automatically subversive, and on the contrary, it acts as a "ritualistic release for a heterosexual economy that must constantly police its own boundaries against the invasion of queerness"

  Let's use this to think about how race operates.
Can we see a color-blind future ?

From Patricia Williams, "The Emperor's New Clothes,"
Seeing A Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race
My son used to attend a small nursery school. Over the course of one year, three different teachers in his school assured me that he was color-blind. Resigned to this diagnosis, i took my son to an ophthalmologist who tested him and pronounced his vision perfect. I could not figure out what was going on until I began to listen carefully to what he was saying about color.

As it turned out, my son did not misidentify colors. He resisted identifying color at all. "I don't know," he would say when asked what color the grass was; or, most peculiarly, "I makes no difference." This latter remark, this assertion fo the greenness of grass making no difference, was such a precociously cynical retort, that i began to suspect some social complication in which he was somehow invested.

The long and short of it is that the well-meaning teachers at his predominantly white school had valiantly and repeatedly assured their charges that color makes no difference. "It doesn't matter," they told the children, "whether you're black or white or red or green or blue." Yet...the very reason that the teachers had felt it necessary to impart this lesson in the first place was that it did matter, an din predictably cruel ways; some of the children had been fighting about whether black people could play "good guys."

My son's anxious responses was redefined by his teachers as physical deficiency. This anxiety redefined as deficiency suggests to me that it may be illustrative of the way in which the liberal ideal of color-blindeness is too often confounded. That is to say, the very notion of blindness about color constitutes an ideological confusion at best, and denial at its very worst....much is overlooked in the move to undo that which clearly and unfortunately matters just be labeling it that which "makes no difference." The dismissiveness...leaves those in my son's position pulled between the clarity of their own experience and the often alienating terms in which they must seek social acceptance.

Sound similar?
To Stephanie's description of The Eradication of Gender: A Necessary Road to Equality?
Cf. Jessy's Immodest Proposal of a … queer movement...that gives you 904 ticky boxes, let’s you check off as many or as few as you want, and let’s you write in if you want to add more.

V. Let's apply the (contrary?) concepts of
color-blindness & multiplication of colors

to the question of canon formation:

From Ingrid and Jessy's conversations about Readings for the class....

how am I suppose to understand all of these authors without going through the foundation and the history of how feminists began in the first place?....A classroom a which we can fill our minds with knowledge...a man does not learn how to walk without learning how to order to have a better understanding of the issues we are dealing with now, we must identify with their roots....I believe that we should read more classics....I want to take their theories apart..and create my own knowlege out of them....

Jessy: I don't think that starting from the beginning is necessary for an understanding of feminism....How far back willl you go? Where will you draw the line?....I take issue with the whole idea of a canon....I'd rather think in terms of a personal canon...texts that are significant to the development...of an individual...I don't want to fill my head with knowledge, I want to produce knowledge....a canon makes it easy to tell who's in the club and who's out. Mastering a canon doesn't mean you've learned how to think, or that you've made those ideas your own....

Anne: I'd like to construct a canon that we don't use to try and kill each other with....Actually, given the complexity of our world, I don't think we can construct an adequate canon, ever. From Katie Canon, I've learned to come to class "not thinking of a territory to be covered but with a compass to point the metalogical direction...."

Flora: the notion of a canon cannot be abadoned...there are certainly texts and authors that are so widely discussed...that an individual without knowledge of them will have difficulty participating....we must make a choice between diversity of feminisms covered and depth of historical and textual interrogation....the class made the choice of me, the feminist "canon" is best represented not by foundational exemplary texts, but by an investigation of the "canon" of studies/issues/categories....

a middle ground?..a generally useful idea of "canon"?

atisman: I thought I was the only one fighting. if there's anyone else interested in wanting to start a know where to find me!

Katha Pollitt, "Why We Read; Canon to the Right of Me..."
Reasonable Creatures: Essays on Women and Feminism

Now, what are we to make of this spluttering debate, in which charges of imperialism are met by equally passionate accusations of vandalism....Perhaps what we have here is one of those debates in which the opposing sides...share a myopia that will turn out to be the most teling feature of the whole discussion...Something is being overlooked: the state of reading and books and literature in our country at this time..while we have been arguing so fiercely about which books make the best medicine, the patient has been slipping deeper and deeper into a coma....

In America today the assmption underlying the canon debate is that the books on the list are the only books that are going to be read....Becoming a textbook is a book's only chance...another assumption all sides hold in that the purpose of reading is...medicinal. The chief end of reading is to produce a desireable kind of person and a desirable kind of society....But is there any list of a few dozen books that can have such a magical effect...? Of course not...the canon debaters are all asking of their handful of chosen books that it do a great deal more than any handful of books can do.

VI. So: what to do?
How far back should we go? Can we go?

How wide should we go? Can we go?
How do we organize the relationship among texts?



Wherefrom our standards, our tests, criterions,
means of discrimination
, terms for judgment?

How individual, how communal, and
how adjudicate among our different perspectives?

What counts as cultural capital?
How does it get revised?

VII. The test case: Katie's Canon
  • "the epistemological privileges of the oppressed"
  • "suspicion is healthy"
  • "I magnify the dualities"...
    W.E.B. DuBois spoke about the power and vulnerability of this double vision...
  • I live out the essence of my name by always opening up the canon...lay bare womanist norms for emancipatory praxis...conducting a three-pronged systematic analysis of race, sex and class
  • the Black women's literary tradition is the best available literary repository for understanding the ethical values Black women have created and cultivated....
  • Seldom, if ever, is their work art-for-art's-sake...Black American writing in the United States has been first and last...a "literature of necessity"....basically utilitarian....
  • Black female writers...capsulize on a myriad of levels the insularity of their home communities.
  • I identify the critical contestable issues at the center of Black life--issues inscribed on the bodies of Black of the pressing concerns that these texts compel womanist scholars to bring to the table of ethical discourse is colorism...pigmentocracy..physiognomy...
  • "moving beyond a single vision of vaginas"
  • Our bodies are the texts that carry the memories....rememory is...reincarnation...
    Flesh houses memories
  • Canon formation is a way of establishing new and larger contexts of experiences within which African American women can attend to the disparity between sources of oppression and sources for liberation
  • the emphasis has to be placed on information derived from Black women talking about their own lives....The moral agency of Black women must be understood on their own terms...
  • My mother exposed me to the world as it was without protection, and she also taught us how to cope with it, so we all learned our place...There was never any private was always assumed that we would work...You never did just what you were asked. You always did a little extra...I resented the fact....
  • kwheeler08: I do think those who are privileged enough to have an advantage in a given situation or society should make an effort “fix” the problem....So what does all this mean in the context of Thursday’s reading Katie’s Canon? Well, I think Cannon address this in her Introduction when she critiques the prevalent idea of the universality of “rigorous, academically excellent scholarship”.... “pseudo-inclusivity” is the problem with mainstream literature....The privileged are unaware of the repression and hegemony....I think reading Womanist literature is a great place to start!
  • EMaciolek: Weirdest conflict is going on in my head right now - I love womanism, and that four-part definition that was given by Alice Walker really inspired me. I felt the most in touch with feminism I've ever felt after reading that, but then it seems like I can't fully participate in that definition because I'm not African American....

    I feel that every facet of society needs their own canon....It's literally like saying "Here - this is the best we can produce, this is the height of our intelligence." In that way, it's amazingly important what Katie Cannon is doing in forming a canon of African American women's literature.

    On the other hand, when it comes to learning and schooling....Nothing will be satisfactory for one has a set list. Also, how boring would it be if there were one?.... Nothing could change or grow about them, that canon would plateau.