Loose Canons

Loose Canons : Notes on the Culture Wars

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Multiculturalism. It has been the subject of cover stories in Time and Newsweek, as well as numerous articles in newspapers and magazines around America. It has sparked heated jeremiads by George Will, Dinesh D'Sousa, and Roger Kimball. It moved William F. Buckley to rail against Stanley Fish and Catherine Stimpson on "Firing Line." It is arguably the most hotly debated topic in America today--and justly so. For whether one speaks of tensions between Hasidim and African-Americans in Crown Heights, or violent mass protests against Moscow in ethnic republics such as Armenia, or outright war between Serbs and Croats in Yugoslavia, it is clear that the clash of cultures is a worldwide problem, deeply felt, passionately expressed, always on the verge of violent explosion. Problems of this magnitude inevitably frame the discussion of "multiculturalism" and "cultural diversity" in the American classroom as well. In Loose Canons, one of America's leading literary and cultural critics, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., offers a broad, illuminating look at this highly contentious issue. Gates agrees that our world is deeply divided by nationalism, racism, and sexism, and argues that the only way to transcend these divisions--to forge a civic culture that respects both differences and similarities--is through education that respects both the diversity and commonalities of human culture. His is a plea for cultural and intercultural understanding. (You can't understand the world, he observes, if you exclude 90 percent of the world's cultural heritage.) We feel his ideas most strongly voiced in the concluding essay in the volume, "Trading on the Margin." Avoiding the stridency of both the Right and the Left, Gates concludes that the society we have made simply won't survive without the values of tolerance, and cultural tolerance comes to nothing without cultural understanding. Henry Louis Gates is one of the most visible and outspoken figures on the academic scene, the subject of a cover story in The New York Times Sunday Magazine and a major profile in The Boston Globe, and a much sought-after commentator. And as one of America's foremost advocates of African-American Studies (he is head of the department at Harvard), he has reflected upon the varied meanings of multiculturalism throughout his professional career, long before it became a national controversy. What we find in these pages, then, is the fruit of years of reflection on culture, racism, and the "American identity," and a deep commitment to broadening the literary and cultural horizons of all Americans.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 218 pages
  • 139.7 x 213.36 x 25.4mm | 385.55g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195075196
  • 9780195075199

Review quote

"In these incisive and readable essays, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is at once sympathetic, funny, and cautionary in making the case for cultural pluralism and the revision of the literary canon."--Gerald Graff, University of Chicago"Gates, probably the best known and most controversial proponent of African American studies, has gathered here a group of his essays on the timely topic of multiculturalism....An excellent addition to all academic libraries and a necessary purchase for any library interested in a serious discussion of multiculturalism."--Library Journal"Lucid, stimulating, and often entertaining. Gates is one of the very few contemporary critics whose work is actually fun to absorb."--Newsday"In these incisive and readable essays, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is at once sympathetic, funny, and cautionary in making the case for cultural pluralism and the revision of the literary canon."--Gerald Graff, University of Chicago"Loose Canons is an inside job, the work of a man who has mastered the arcane politics and encoded language of the canon makers; it's an arsenal of ideas in the cultural wars. But it is also the outpouring of a humane, witty, and truly civilized mind--and that's exactly why Loose Canons strikes so hard and true."--Los Angeles Timesshow more

About Jr. Henry Louis Gates

About the Author: Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is Chairman of the Afro-American Studies Department and W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. He is the author of The Signifying Monkey, Figures in Black, and Colored People; general editor of The Schomburg Library of Nineteenth Century Black Women Writers; and general editor of The W.E.B. Du Bois Institute series.show more

Review Text

A distinguished scholar fires his salvo in the Battle of the Books now raging in academe over opening core curricula to non-Western works by women and people of color. In these collected essays, Gates (African-American Studies and English/Harvard; co-ed., The Slave's Narrative, 1984) notes that the analysis of texts has become "a marionette theater of the political" - but thinks that it has been ever thus for conservatives, who have long sustained "the hegemony of the Western tradition." Gates feels that the fruits of his specialty should be integrated into the teaching of all students of all races - a centrist position between separatists of the left such as Leonard Jeffries and the inevitable academic bogeymen of the right, Allan Bloom and William J. Bennett. Gates makes the case for multiculturalism as persuasively and eloquently as any advocate has to date: "If we relinquish the ideal of America as a plural nation, common sense tells us that we've abandoned the very experiment that America represents." Yet while at times these pieces throw off such strong reminders of their author's passion, wit, and immense talent that one can forgive his facile, shrill caricature of opponents (do all critics of multiculturalism really want to return to "the thrilling days of yesterday, when God was in His heaven and all was white with the world"?), only in his MLA address, "Goodbye, Columbus? Critical Remarks," does he acknowledge excessive political correctness among multiculturalists. Two Sam Spade parodies that name a group of canon conspirators provide the only stylistic relief among these essays, which generally are repetitious and overloaded with eye-glazing phrases from critical theory ("autotelic artifacts," "discursive subjects," and "tropes," etc.). Ironically, Gates's attempt to broaden the audience for the excluded fails for the simplest of reasons: It is written in narrowly constricting academic jargon. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

35 ratings
3.77 out of 5 stars
5 31% (11)
4 29% (10)
3 29% (10)
2 9% (3)
1 3% (1)
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