Having just received my own review copy of A New Literary History of America from Harvard University Press, I was intrigued to read Mark Bauerlein and Priscilla Ward’s email exchange on the book over at The Chronicle of Higher Education . Unsurprisingly, the book does not just focus on literature, but also on history, politics, popular culture and art in a series of discrete position papers arranged chronologically. No metanarrative hereexcept one, of course: what Bauerlein calls “a drama of multiculturalist emergence.”
Indeed, what struck me most in reading the exchange and in flipping through the book was that this is not a new literary history at all. It is simply a reification (to borrow that popular Marxist term) of what has long been assumed about the nature of history in general and American literary history in particular in the humanities. That Ward often encourages Bauerlein to write his own literary history on the figures and topics that have long been excluded while still claiming that the Harvard history is new and fresh is more than a little ironic.
Read the whole exchange here , in which in addition to his intelligence, Professor Bauerlein should be commended for his generous civility.