Friday, July 22, 2011

July 22, 2011 [Scholarly Review 3]: Caroline Rody

Obviously I have some very personal reasons for thinking that academic and scholarly voices have something meaningful to contribute to our broader national conversations and narratives; but while I do hope that my own voice and work (present and future) can do so, I have also come to this perspective through reading and engaging with lots of other scholars who seem to me to have at least as much to offer to the non-academic world as they do within it. It’s certainly fair to say that some academic work is intended mostly for academic audiences and conversations, and I wouldn’t do what I do for a living if I didn’t find such work (which I would admit includes my first book pretty fully) valuable as well; but just as we AmericanStudiers can learn about our culture from a variety of sources, academic and otherwise, so too can our culture at large only gain from including scholarly voices in its conversations more frequently and meaningfully.
As I see it, most if not all of the scholars and works I’ll highlight in these scholarly review posts will fall into that category, and that’s definitely true of Professor Caroline Rody, who teaches in the University of Virginia English Department alongside Railton pére. Rody first came to my attention with the publication of her first book, The Daughter’s Return: African-American and Caribbean Women’s Fictions of History (2001), a beautifully written and very engaging analysis of a number of contemporary historical novels and their themes of family and heritage, identity and community, past and future. Granted, that genre and those themes are among my most consistent scholarly and personal obsessions, but I would argue that they are also hugely significant for all 21st century Americans, and Rody’s book made those stakes plain and compelling without losing sight of the complex details of her chosen authors and texts. As this blog hopefully attests, I think that there’s great value in highlighting and analyzing works that we should all read as well as in framing and analyzing themes and questions of national and human importance; a scholarly work that does either of those things well is a success to me, and Rody’s first book did both.
Her second book, The Interethnic Imagination: Roots and Passages in Contemporary Asian American Fiction (2009), extends many of those same focal points and conversations to a third body of contemporary literature, and does so even more engagingly and readably. Yet in it Rody also does very successfully what I strove to do in my own second book—highlights the consistent and meaningful presence, not only in her chosen works but throughout our culture and identity, of interethnic encounters and exchanges, both in the intersections of individuals and communities with one another and in the interplays that constitute any and every individual identity and perspective within our culture. Rody’s book is once again grounded very fully in her particular authors and texts, but never loses sight of the value of her ideas and insights for our culture—and thus for all interested and engaged American readers—more generally. In the Intro to my book I highlighted a group of scholarly projects that served as models for me, not only in their ideas but also in their execution; I hadn’t had a chance to read Rody’s book when I finalized my own, so consider this a very worthy addition to that list.
One of the false dichotomies that can plague narratives about the academy is that there’s the stuff we focus on within its walls and the stuff that happens outside of it (ie, in “the real world”); similarly, us literary scholars are sometimes seen as reading and analyzing works that wouldn’t otherwise be read or engaged with. But as Rody’s books entirely illustrate, the truth is quite the opposite—the work done by the best scholars and the books most worth our scholarly attention both represent voices we can and should include in our individual, communal, and national conversations. I can’t wait to read her third book! More this weekend,
PS. Three links to start with:
1)      Rody’s website at UVa:
3)      OPEN: As usual with these posts, suggestions for scholars or works to be covered very welcome!

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