- Editor’s Note
In our previous issue on Affiliation, Terry Caesar relates the story of his first academic job. Newly arrived at the university, Caesar was handed an anthology and assigned to teach two sections of a course entitled “World Masterpieces.” He had never taught the course before, and came to think that it was assigned to him as “a sort of punishment.” Caesar reflects that “The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces was given unto me in the same spirit that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments” (34). Caesar’s experience as a young scholar and teacher resonates through the essays in the current issue. Our contributors provide a critical examination of the pedagogical, political, and economic implications of using and publishing anthologies.
Anthologies are shaped by pedagogies, and pedagogies shape anthologies. A good anthology can be the difference between a positive educational experience and a pedagogical nightmare. Teachers’ attitudes towards their courses are oftentimes directly related to the textbooks that they use. Departments fall into habits of uncritical acceptance of anthologies like the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces as the benchmark for what should be taught in a world literature course. Anthology critics call us to question that trust, or at least to understand better the conditions upon which it can be accepted.
In addition to shaping our teaching experience, anthologies also have a key role in canon-formation, and are always already implicated with various political and cultural agendas. Whereas a previous generation of scholars were more inclined to consider the contents of the Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces to be necessary and immutable, an emerging generation of scholars are challenging such notions. Contemporary critical theory and cultural studies have revealed to an emerging generation of academics the radically contingent nature of the contents of anthologies, and conditions upon which those contents have been determined. Today anthologies are discussed by progressive thinkers in terms of the canonical formations that they propose, and the possible political and cultural directions in which they implicate their subject matter. Just as anthologies can empower subjects, ideologies, and canons, making them relevant to students and faculty, they can also disempower them and make them irrelevant. Anthologies have consequences, and are grounded in commitments: striving to articulate these consequences and commitments is a priority in higher education today.
Contemporary critical theory and cultural studies encourages us to question the uncritical acceptance of the contents of anthologies, and to take a closer look at the ways in which our understanding and teaching of subjects is shaped by anthologies. Anthologies reflect the politics of literature and theory inside and outside the academy. They are not, as many once believed, simply reflective of literary canons, rather they are constitutive of them. Given anthologies’ role in canon formation, we are obligated to examine their ideological, pedagogical, economic and philosophical conditions. Using an anthology without an understanding of how and why it is in your hands puts your education and teaching at risk, whether you are a student or a teacher. Without taking into [End Page 5] account the specific the conditions under which anthologies are produced, consumed, regulated, and distributed, there is little way to have any insight into the specific identity of the anthology which one is using.
The essays in this collection help us to understand these concepts by providing an overview of the most important issues confronting users and producers of anthologies today. Most of the contributors are themselves the editors of anthologies. By drawing upon personal experiences in their essays, these professionals provide a rare glimpse into the economics and logic of anthology publication. Their insights on the material and economic culture of publishing complement the pedagogical, canonical and political theses regarding anthologies developed throughout this volume.
Finally, it should be mentioned that a conscious effort has been made to include discussion of as wide a range of anthologies as possible within the parameters of literature and theory. The result is a representative slice of the issues in contemporary anthology theory, and the concerns of the contemporary editor of anthologies. After reading through these essays, anthologies will never look the same.
Please note that we have two issues in...