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Rivka Swenson <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 4 Mar 1998 13:56:38 -0500
TEXT/PLAIN (30 lines)
I do hope the following isn't woefully beside the point; I think that,
actually, the following is applicable, and an opinion worth scholarly
consideration (note: I'm no book banner--I say, read _Huck Finn_). The
quotation (a very interesting one, although it almost cries 'conspiracy
theory!') is from Barbara Herrnstein Smith's article, "Contingencies of
Value," as it appeared in _Critical Inquiry_ 10 (September 1983):
        [W]hen the value of a work is seen as unquestionable, those of its
features that would, in a noncanonical work, be found alienating...will be
glozed over or backgrounded.  In particular, features that conflict
intolerably with the interests and ideologies of subsequent subjects (and,
in the West, with those generally benign "humanistic" values for which
canonical works are commonly celebrated)--for example, incidents or
sentiments of brutality, bigotry, and racial sexual or national
chauvinism--will be represented or rationalized, and there will be a
tendency among humanistic scholars and academic critics to "save the text"
by transferring the locus of interest to more formal or structural
features and/or allegorizing its potentially alienating ideology to some
more general ("universal") level where it becomes more tolerable and also
more readily interpretable in terms of contemporary ideologies.  Thus we
make texts timeless by suppressing their temporality.  (It may be added
that to those scholars and critics for whom those features are not only
palatable but for whom the value of the canonical works consists precisely
in their "embodying" and "preserving" such "traditional values," the
transfer of the locus of value to fromal properties will be seen as a
descent into formalism and "aestheticism," and the tendency to alegorize
it too generally or to interpret it too readily in terms of "modern
values" will be seen not as saving the text but betraying it.)

...Rivka Swenson