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  • Beauty Is a Thing of the PastThe Idiom, the Monster, and the Democratic Health of Our Disciplines
  • Paula Cucurella (bio)

I. The Problem

I will commence by stating "the problem"; my familiarity with it dates back to 2015, when I left the State University of New York at Buffalo to study creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso, where I currently teach. Coming from an academic field, trained in philosophy and literary theory, I took the word "creative" (this new category that I was in principle authorized to use) as a new symbolic stamp in my writing passport. This diplomatic stamp granted me the right to a certain immunization from the restrictions of tedious quotations, MLA format, and certain creative tolls of having to pay to be published. There is probably no need to say that academic writers also use creativity, and some actively search for a style; they also need images, metaphors, and literary techniques. And insofar as they like having readers, they are concerned with the attractiveness, elegance, and clarity of their writing. [End Page 185] Most importantly, perhaps—and not completely unrelated to style—both groups of writers, academic and literary, relate to their boundaries in a problematic way, given the conflicting coexistence of two seemingly incompatible things. On the one hand, there is the (let's call it creative) need to renew the field and incorporate new texts, new ideas to our disciplines, the disciplines for which we write. On the other hand, there are the restraint, limitations, and censorship imposed by those very disciplines to determine and preserve their own identity determined by institutionalized practices of reading, writing, and publishing.

This situation is what I describe as "the problem," which assessment and description will coordinate the considerations of this article, and even though the problem is not restricted to literature, my focus will be on this last writing discipline. The problematic character of this problem derives not only from the contradiction and conflict created by the two drives mentioned—the drive to preserve disciplinary identity and the drive for renewal—but also from the premises that seem to be guiding disciplinary identity, which reveal a politics discriminatory of sex, race, and gender.1

In this article, I will address the logic responsible for the creation of the generic limits that shape and divide writing disciplines and genres, to highlight the arbitrariness that informs these limits as well as the economy that administrates the incorporation of "new work." Furthermore, I will defend that the reasons informing the exclusion of a work from its incorporation to a certain writing discipline have as much to do with a text's ability to echo the canon or tradition (in form, style, and ideas) as with reasons from an extra-literary order (gender, race, class, etc.). In both cases, the result is the minimization of the diversity of the disciplines at stake and their stagnation.

II. The Literary Law

The authority of the literary canon, the rule, and rules that quietly enforce, is nothing short of a law, even if unwritten as such. At the hypothetical port of entry to the literary space (a protected realm where not every writer and every text is allowed permission to enter), the law greets those works and texts that respect the law and could potentially reinforce it in the future. Acceptance to [End Page 186] the literary realm comes with the authority of "speaking from the inside" or "being in the known," that is, the authority of speaking the law, enforcing it, and embodying it as living proof. Contrary to common sense, this ability to speak with literary authority is granted even if the law as such—or the essence of literature, or the principles that determine the creation of such limits and boundaries between the literary and nonliterary—is never revealed or offered to perception. The literary law gives place and structures the canon, and the literary tradition rules with the power and force with which it is entitled, but the origin of its force refuses apprehension.

In Préjugés, a text Derrida presented at a 1982 colloquium at Cerisy and that first...


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