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Canadian Review of American Studies 1992Special Issue, Part II 193 ten Year Checkup: Feminist Criticism and the American Literary Canon Carolyn Redl The space marked out as feminist criticism of American literature is shared, often polemically, by critics who bring into the field particular analytical tools from linguistics, history, sociology, psychology, and anthropology, for example, and from different schools for viewing the world such as modernism , structuralism, deconstruction, and reader response. Perhaps no field of current critical thinking is as all encompassing in scope as feminist literary criticism. Not only is there conflict for space between different schools of thought, but the spaces are constantly shifting as feminist perspectives change. On the heels of the backlash against feminism, the terms "feminist criticism" and, hence, "feminist literary criticism" have become both radicalized and euphemized. As we push into the 1990s,we might ask, what is the state of feminist criticism and, more specifically,what is the state of feminist criticism of American literature? Feminist literary criticism has made, and continues to make, progressive and definitive changes in the American literary canon and on procedures for interpreting literature. Furthermore, feminist literary criticism has itself become both a topic for reinterpretation and an integral aspect of the canon and of the literary theory generated by the canon. While the body of feminist criticism of American literature has been evolving,some of its practitioners have looked introspectively for clarification and definition of the discipline's essence and boundaries. However, critics often explicitly or implicitly draw upon British and French as well as Anglo-American theoretical approaches. The preoccupation with definition 194 Canadian Review of American Studies and clarification has led to complex dissension, particularly with regard to concepts as disconnected as pluralism and essentialism. That feminist criticism combines many conceptual models, is asserted by those captured by what Annette Kolodny (1980) advocated and innocently termed "playful pluralism." Women's writing differs from men's, assert those adhering to the concept of "l'ecriture feminine" outlined by Helene Cixous in 1976. Separating these two germinal approaches, one general and one specific, are many diverse and often diaiectically opposed modes which have, in turn, brought us today to the position where feminist criticism is institutionalized and those processes of institutionalization and canonization are themselves integrated into the feminist critic's agenda. Since it is now a decade since I participated in my first graduate seminars in feminist criticismand in women and literature, what could be more fitting than to track the course of feminist criticism of American literature through those inteivening years? With some nostalgia, I recall the invigorating discussionswith professors Patricia Clements and Shirley Neuman at the University of Alberta during 1982-83,and consider the evolution of intellectual thought which has occurred since then. Because of the mind-boggling depth and diversity of feminist criticism, I cannot use a symptomatic approach, but, rather, I shall take a quick diagnostic checkup of the discipline's current well-being, glancing at randomly selected publications in what I perceive as categories of primary concern. The list was derived from the holdings of the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary and from data obtained from DIALOG Information Services, Books in Print, PMLA, and Choice. Publishers' recent promotional material served to aid in determining priorities of current concern in feminist criticism of American literature. Looking back at my introduction to the subject, I realize that our graduate seminars and similar ones in other universities contributed to the institutionalization of feminist studies. While the manifestations of the canonizing of women's literature is still changing and unstable, just as the entire canon is still unstable and changing, courses in women's literature and in feminist criticism in particular, contribute to the process. Time alone will determine to what degree and in what directions the reconstruction of the canon will expand the university.Will reconstruction change the university's Carolyn Redl I 195 centre and prompt the creation of universally gender-balanced courses? Will it leave the centre untouched and install counterinstitutions such as women's studies programs? Will it build onto the periphery of the established centre by delivering noncredit programs? Will reconstruction change all these areas? The...


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