Dear Lillian,

Reading “Treason Our Text” is so orgasmic… it makes everything clear and beautiful. Well, clear and scary, but that’s better than dark and scary.

Am I really going beyond it? I feel like I can see beyond it, but I’m still IN it. And no one I have read seems to have gone beyond it.

1) criticize existing canon – pick it apart
2) make case for individual women writers that they fit the canonicity
3) make countercanons (but: questions of aesthetics/quality)
4) women’s culture, continuity, connections (evading “quality”)
– break down class/elite/genre high/low (here is where I am pounding the keys on genre formation, which Robinson only lightly touches on: “an entire literature previously dismissed because it was popular with women and affirmed standards and values associated with femininity” )
5) style challenged

“Once again, the arena is the female tradition itself. If we are thinking in terms of canon formation, it is the alternative canon. Until the aesthetic arguments can be fully worked out in the feminist context, it will be impossible to argue….”

and then:

The development of feminist literary criticism and scholarship has already proceeded through a number of identifiable stages. Its pace is more reminiscent of the survey course than of the slow processes of canon formation and revision, and it has been more successful in defining and sticking to its own intellectual turf, the female counter-canon, than in gaining general canonical recognition for Edith Wharton, Fanny Fern, or the female diarists of the Westward Expansion. In one sense, the more coherent our sense of the female tradition is, the stronger will be our eventual case. Yet the longer we wait, the more comfortable the women’s literature ghetto — separate, apparently autonomous, and far from equal — may begin to feel.

So my answer to that has been to construct not a countercanon, but a countergenre. Then within that genre (which might be the “women’s culture” strategy) I propose to redefine literary quality. Then to reintegrate canons. (Of course: Someday? When? How?)

But where I go much further, or where I can see further, is in tech, in databases and tagging. Databases and indices, taggable entries, and open source algorithms that people can tweak to construct their individual or institutional canon of the moment. Obviously, large powerful universities would “brand” their own algorithm and perhaps might make them closed-source. I’ve been saying it for a couple of years now. It would be so beautiful. Tagging and tag clouds would make popular input possible. The construction of algorithms with spectrums of weighting desired important qualities would come up with results to construct syllabi, anthologies, and reading lists on the fly. Databases and the web make it possible to build infinite multiple dynamic canons.

2 thoughts on “Dear Lillian,

  1. Hi, I’m editing what became Lillian’s valedictory piece for Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, which begins by commemorating the publication of “Treason Our Text”. I’ve included your appreciation of it in a footnote. Although her thoughts on the subject were not fully developed enough to include in that piece, Lillian was aware of the democratizing power of the Web, and I think would have been pleased by your praise, intrigued by your approach, and most of all gratified that you are both inspired by her work and seek to push beyond it.

    All the best,

  2. Hi, the Tulsa Studies piece has been published, and is available via Project Muse if you have access. If not, I can send you an offprint if we can work out the logistics. You can get a note to me via a message link from here.


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