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TERRY P. CAESAR Pieties and Theories: The Heath in the Survey, the Survey in the Discipline Is there a more canonical course in any English program throughout the United States than an American literature survey7 The last time I taught the second part of my department's sequence, 1 860 to the Present, I very deliberately chose The Heath Anthoiogy of American Literature, Volume II. This article will present a series of reflections designed both to argue and to demonstrate why teaching such a course from this anthology is virtually unrepresentable in the profession. There is no great mystery to why anyone today would choose the Heath. It is, as the salesman for another publisher mourned to me during the previous semester, "the hottest thing going." Therefore, the anthology raises in an especially acute way the question of what sort of relation any course has to its textbook, which is, in turn, but a version of the larger question of what sort of relation any course has to the professional discourse about teaching. Through my thoughts on each day of the semester I mean to suggest the following: the relation of any one course to the discourse so often takes place beneath the historical perspectives of the subject and so consistently deflects various pedagogical strategies that the relation must be taken for granted in order for research into fresh perspectives and new pedagogies to continue at all. Of course I selected the Heath in the first place because I hoped for a tight fit between the aims of my course and what the General Editor of Arizona Quarterly Volume 51, Number 4, Winter 1995 Copyright © 1995 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1610 noTerry P. Caesar the anthology, Paul Lauter, claims about how the categories of race, gender, and class "enable us to engage the most interesting social, political , and artistic questions, the questions of our time" (330). At a selfconscious pedagogical moment when even PMLA proposes a special issue on The Teaching of Literature, how could any self-respecting instructor not agree with Lauter, or at least try? More to my point, however , how could the day-to-day drama ofenlisting students in a fashionable , even unexceptional, ideological agenda not immediately proceed to be discursively lost in the assumption that to teach the anthology is to have to consider the merits of the agenda? The great unproblematized tetm in literary study at present is not theory but teaching. Consider students, who can well persist in ignoring any proscribed agenda entirely (or else they wouldn't be wotth teaching). The rhetorical role of students in critical discourse ought at least to be regarded more skeptically. Richard Ruland, for example, in an extended ctitique of the Heath, maintains that an entity he terms "our students" will not be well served by the anthology's effacement of "a mainstream literary tradition." "They will sense only," he contends, "that somehow everything has been seen through a glass darkly till now, but at last they can engage the nation and its writing directly, face to face" (356). How to test this question apart from real students in a real classroom? Ruland, however, is not licensed to do so by the conventions of his occasion, in which the very course for which the textbook is designed remains unconsidered because the course is by definition too banal. Anyone who teaches an undergraduate survey course is better off forgetting what everyone knows: such a course has no discursive power in the discipline. "Whatever pieties to the contrary," states Evan Watkins , speaking of the venerable "binary opposition" between writing for publication and teaching, "publication is always the privileged term, because it names the power of producing 'the new'" (218). The problem with survey courses, especially, is that they ate not designed to produce the new, but to receive it. This is precisely what I was doing in choosing the Heath. The script for my course, in this sense, had already been written elsewhere, and it remained only for me to enact it. As Watkins maintains: "Teaching in contrast merely circulates in the classroom what has already been made available in one form or another in publication. That...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 109-140
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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