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Notes from the Periphery

Marginality in North American Literature and Culture

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Susan P. Castillo

In recent years, the traditional literary canon has come under attack in the United States and elsewhere. Perhaps as a result, a backlash against the opening up of the traditional canon has emerged, with conservative academics muttering darkly about «throwing out the baby with the bath water» and drawing up lists of What Every American Should Know. Notes from the Periphery attempts to examine the dynamics of marginalization and define the factors that have caused certain texts to be labeled as marginal while others are considered central and thus crucial in maintaining and perpetuating mainstream cultural values. Within the Western European tradition, Aristotelian thought has played a crucial role in staking out the center (i.e., the locus of power and authority) for certain groups and relegating others to the periphery; and it is not without significance that today's neo-conservative thinkers have adopted Aristotelian tactics. Thus, Castillo outlines the basic tenets of Aristotelian thought and traces the continuing influence of Aristotelian attitudes in the canon debate. She then goes on to analyze writers or historical figures who were labeled as fanatics, diagnosed as mad or sexually depraved, or dismissed as quaint regional or ethnic curiosities.