Treason Our Text: A Preposthumous View
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Treason Our Text:
A Preposthumous View

This essay is unfinished because it was composed by Lillian S. Robinson as she was in the palliative care unit, struggling through the final stages of ovarian cancer. Douglas Michael Massing, her friend and former assistant, helped Robinson as she worked on this project from her hospital bed, and he arranged the results of her composition into the text below. The text comprises Robinson's own words, and she orally approved a draft of it that was read back to her, although with the hope that she could continue to work on what she saw as an essay in progress. Massing wrote the endnotes and afterword, which provide some clarification and context. I have edited it very lightly, making a few changes in paragraphing, dividing some long sentences into two, and correcting some punctuation. My goal was to correct errors and to translate what had been composed in an oral format into the medium of print, while interfering as little as possible with Robinson's voice. In making these changes I have consulted with Massing and with Lillian Robinson's nephew and literary executor, Greg Robinson, Associate Professor of History, Université du Québec À Montréal. I thank them both for entrusting Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature with Lillian's last publication, and I hope the following text does indeed convey what she wanted to say.

Laura M. Stevens

"Treason Our Text: Feminist Challenges to the Literary Canon," begins the exploration of a position on canonizing: how we go about thinking about the literary canon. It is an "outsider's" way of looking at the canon, which first brings in the issue of class, then complicates it with questions of race and sexuality.1 Over the years, it has become the most anthologized and cited of my works: some dozen reprints are known, including translations into Spanish and Hungarian.2 I think the reason it became sort of the piece on this subject—ironically—is that it's written for an elite academic audience and its quotations come from the canon. So the definition of the canon as nonelitist comes through language that is elite.

I was at the University of Tulsa for a semester teaching one course on this material, which had been solicited for a canons issue of Critical Inquiry, but when I wrote and submitted an article, they turned it down. Shari Benstock, then the editor of Tulsa Studies, asked if I had anything on the canon and was [End Page 23] handed this (and I think would have used whatever it was).3 So it became a defining piece for what Tulsa Studies was: a way of taking their mission into more recent material and stuff not solely confined to gender issues but rather the interaction between gender and other categories, as I had been exploring in Sex, Class, and Culture.4 "Treason Our Text" was followed three years later by "Is There Class in This Text?" my review of Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar's The Norton Anthology of Women's Literature.5 It struck a chord in part because people, particularly women of Hispanic origin, were raising the same questions as they developed a growing body of English-language material on the Hispanic experience that was signaling a change in the discourse on women's literature. My piece that continued where "Is There Class in This Text?" left off, "The Queens' Necklace," further developed that discourse.6

My present sense is, however, an ironic one, that this series of pieces became a source of that discourse in part because it was done in a very literary way through basically the joke, the play on words, on the canon. It started with "Canon Fathers and Myth Universe" and increasingly over the years developed that play on words from earlier tropes of struggle—"Treason Our Text," "Feminist Criticism: How Do We Know When We've Won?"—to such titles as "Their Canon, Our Arsenal" and eventually [to] my collection of essays in this area, In the Canon's Mouth.7

This wordplay of course invokes the power of words...