In this frictionless age of individually tailored newsfeeds, in which deeply illiberal movements on both sides of the Atlantic have set about dismantling fundamental social and political institutions, it is crucial that we in our Scandinavian undergraduate English programs do not abandon our commitment to the traditional American literature survey in favour of more internationally oriented courses in World English, as has been proposed by stakeholders both within and without our discipline. The ability to think critically and independently about our own cultural space, largely defined by American terms, can only emerge dialectically, through a continued engagement with the common patrimony of poets, novelists, and thinkers that have articulated and interrogated the very core values and beliefs of our liberal democracies. Reading deeply in this tradition makes our students better and more informed members of society, more principled in their thought, more sensitive to the difference between universal and relative values, more alive to the existence and needs of others, more aware of how our culture is predicated on questioning, challenging, and critiquing those who hold power and the structures that make the exercise of that power possible. As such, defending the teaching of the American canon is not a conservative, rearward-looking stance, concerned with the primacy and preservation of the works of dead white males. On the contrary, it is a position predicated on the urgent belief that the future health and vitality of our society depends on a continuous critical negotiation with our artistic past.
We Are Citizens of the World: A Defence of the American Literature Survey (in the Name of Cosmopolitanism)