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"AMERICAN PURITANISM" AND MARY WHITE ROWLANDSON'S NARRATIVE Teresa A. Toulouse In every era the attempt must be made to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it. —Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History/' in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections In 1977 Joan Kelly asked, "Did women have a Renaissance?" and irrevocably altered the notion of "accepted schemes of periodization." Kelly did not discount the need for something like periodization, however. As a social historian, she viewed periods as involving "changes in the social order" which fell into a certain "causal sequence." Thus rather than dismissing broad temporal categories such as "medieval" or "Renaissance," she claimed that "what is more promising about the way periodization has begun to function in womens history is that it has become relational. It relates the history of women to that of men."] Kelly did not discount historicalperiodization as such; rather, periods would change from within rather than from without as the object of what was studied within them changed. Nearly twenty years later, some literary historians indebted to Kellys early insights call not only accepted schemes of periodization into question, but also the very concept of periodization itself, dealing as it does with suspect assumptions about possibly totalizing "causal sequence[s]." Under the influence of a variety of theories disputing the essential nature of "man" and "woman," Kellys concept of the "relational character" of women's history, particularlythe connections it bears to "institutional reasons" for gendered inequalities, has likewise been transformed. For Americanists, the interlinked distrust of periodization and of older constructions of a unified (fe)male "subject" has taken a varietyof practical shapes in recent literary histories and anthologies. In the Columbia Literary History (1988), for example, the editors explain that selections were arranged chrono- 138 : TERESA A. TOULOUSE logically only for ''organizational convenience/' Readers were encouraged to see thematic spillover and overlap among sections, a process to be aided by extensive indexing. Such reading practices would allow readers to "do" American literary history rather than simply to "read" it. Their multiple readings would force this history to emerge as kaleidoscopic rather than unidirectional,2 something made, or something making them "American," rather than something simply given. More recently, a specialized anthology in my own area of interest, early American studies, has similarly stressed the variety of ways in which this literature can be used other than the strictly chronological. While it, too, employs a chronological framework, The English Literatures of America also points out, "Some chapters focus on regions; others on genre; others on contexts of discourse, or topic."3 For this anthology, such categorical variations are intended to show up the wider imperial and inter/national contexts in which the concept of an exceptional "American" subject—male and female —comes to be constructed in English texts. Such practical efforts at dislodging traditional assumptions about historical periodization have been accompanied by explicit theoretical claims by other Americanists. Annette Kolodny, forinstance, took up the call resonating throughout literarystudies that the dissolution ofthe idea ofa (largely white male) canon called for an equal dissolution of the notions of periodization on which it was presumably based. Texts by formerly disenfranchised groups could not simply be included in an "expanding" canon based on traditional notions of periodization : they would instead call for a total reworking of any concept ofliterary history itself.4 Such reworking would not only affect more traditional readings of periods, it would also affect newer terms invoked to critique such periodization such as "margin" and "center." Elaine Hedges suggested that the questioning of these terms would further increase the need for different ways of conceptualizing relationships among texts—perhaps "repositioning a text" in a variety of different contexts.5 Central to both traditional and contemporary concerns about periods, however , seems to be the question, touched on by Hedges and indirectlyacknowledged by editors and anthologists, of what organization newer and older texts "should" take once traditional periodizing has been drawn into question by theories of gendered, ethnic, "racial," sexual, and now, national, difference. Hedges s concept of repositioning suggests an implicit egalitarian impulse at work in such efforts that could, but not necessarily would, be related to a concept of historical categorization. If such an unspoken moral, as opposed to, say, explicitly historical, basis of some of these arguments would seem to call for historical analysis,so does such "AMERICAN PURITANISM" AND ROWLANDSON'S NARRATIVE : 139 critics' own historical positioning. Paradoxically, the notion of repositioning as well as many...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780820343532
Related ISBN
9780820343532
MARC Record
OCLC
794306972
Pages
320
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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