- Multicultural Hybridity: Transforming American Literary Scholarship and Pedagogy
Multicultural Hybridity is readable, ambitious, methodical, helpful, and perhaps too tame. It speaks with refreshing frankness about curricular and pedagogical troubles facing the discipline of college literature with reference to multiculturalism; it connects those struggles to contemporary theory; and it offers concrete suggestions for both individual classroom instructors and departmental re-visioning of coursework. I was disappointed, though, that it does not offer a more fierce critique of the aesthetic standards of literary scholarship.
Hybridity is a notion associated with post-colonial work, such as Homi Bhabha's, one of many theorists to whom Grobman cites her indebtedness. (On occasion, I found myself wishing for more limited lists of scholars and scholarship, or, conversely, deeper delving into the ways that various theories inform her own.) Used in the nineteenth century to justify colonialism, in recent reformulations, hybridity is a contested, problematic, but ultimately generative, mixing of cultures, forms, and values: "an ambivalent and contradictory space in which the colonizer and colonized interrelate, deconstructing—and then reconstructing—subjectivities and cultural systems" (21). Grobman's book sets out to theorize multicultural texts as literary hybrid spaces, texts located in the interstices. In five tight chapters, Grobman methodically lays out the terrain of multiculturalism in English studies, explains her theory of literary hybridity, describes a "hybrid aesthetics," specifies the political value of a theory of literary hybridity, and, finally, suggests a revisioning of U.S. literature as a whole.
The book begins with a very readable discussion of the larger question of "liberal" versus "critical" multiculturalism. The liberal version is the one Grobman's students (and many of my own) seem most familiar with: we are all essentially human (universality and the call to assimilate); we can all be different on the surface (food, rituals, dialect) but underneath, we are all the same (plurality with the call for equal treatment). Later in the book, Grobman highlights the ways that such a perspective leads her students to see only "universal" tropes in books such as The House on Mango Street or A [End Page 207] Lesson Before Dying, such as the "healing power of love." Such analyses miss the specificity of these texts: the lived realities of racism or poverty, or intra-group tensions among men and women in a particular culture, or the myths and narrative forms called upon by an author which are particular to her way of life.
As Multicultural Hybridity progresses, Grobman effectively describes the pedagogical work she does to move both general education students and English majors beyond such homogenizing tendencies. These details, while not exhaustive, will be helpful reading for many faculty looking to shift their practice. But be warned: it is work. In order to get at lived and textual intersections, Grobman asks students to bring independent, sometimes primary community-based research, back to the classroom, or engages them in service-learning projects; she brings speakers to her classes or requires that students attend related campus events. Grobman provides many concrete examples of the varied hybrid textual linkages that she provides for students, too, such as among Judith Ortiz Cofer's Silent Dancing: A Partial Remembrance of a Puerto Rican Childhood and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own as well as Toni Morrison's Tar Baby and Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior.
These mini-syllabi and course descriptions—where an entire course is structured around one central hybrid text, and many other literary and rhetorical texts are brought into dialogue with it—are valuable, and Grobman presents them in the hope that this model will take hold more broadly in the discipline. She acknowledges the effort and risk involved in a course structured this way: "I let my students know that despite the number of times I have read, for example, Ceremony, and the quantity of secondary research I have read about it, there is still a great deal that I do not comprehend, and that I consider each reading a new intellectual endeavor" (47...