Chapter Four of Multicultural Hybridity by Laurie Grobman deals with the politics of multiculturalism and her concept of “hybridity” when they are employed in the classroom. I was glad to read her assertion that attempting to avoid politics in the classroom or in classroom readings is basically impossible, and that conservative theorists (like the New Critics) who attempt to focus only on traditional concepts of aesthetics while trying to distance the political contexts of meaning-making are oversimplifying, and even denying, the realities of American culture that exist within the literature and within the classroom.
Grobman offers some possibilities in this chapter of resolving three common issues that plague multiculturalism in education: the distinction between direct political engagement (like protesting or voting) and the political work done in literature classrooms; the myth that a writer or a work cannot be focused on, or capable of, aesthetic excellence if a political commentary is preeminent; and the view of some white students that critical commentaries by non-white or female writers are nothing more than “victim” or “oppression” stories. The first of those three issues is near and dear to my heart, as a teacher who regards my work as cultural work. Reading, films, and other art forms made me aware of cultural contexts and ideals beyond my own, and educational experiences are a truly a liberating experiences. The second of the three issues is central to my work on John Beecher, who many scholars have regarded as a politically charged writer whose works are of inferior quality; my book on Beecher digs into his work to examine both his political statements and his literary merit. The last of three issues is one that I have witnessed personally, as some works with strong non-white cultural contexts, like Langston Hughes’ essay “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” prove difficult for some white students, who may view the work as not written for them.
Grobman’s two examples in this chapter consist of one book that I have read, . . . And the Earth Will Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera, and one that I have not, Bone by Fae Myenne Ng. Rivera’s multi-genre novella that blends prose narrative with a poetic imagism startled me when I read it, and I was even more amazed when I read Grobman’s analysis of the book and how it is so many things all at once in such a short space. She writes that Rivera’s book “stands at the juncture of multiple literary, aesthetics and cultural discourses, including but not limited to the American bildungsroman and kunstlerroman traditions, modernist and postmodern American literature, Beat literature, Chicana and Chicano literature, Mexican literature, Mexican oral traditions, the Chicano movement, Chicana feminism, Mexican female archetypes, and discourses of democracy” (95). Even though I had read it, I had not even considered how much ground it covers, socio-politically and artistically.
I am almost done reading Multicultural Hybridity. The final portions of the book contain Grobman’s suggestions for how to change the Anerican literary canon.
[continued in Reading: “Multicultural Hybridity,” The Final Word]