A few years ago I ended my graduate studies in English. I had gone back to school, admittedly, not for pure scholarship, but to gain a sense of how American literature was truly “American.” For a long time before, I had assumed that European literature was, if not superior to its American counterpart, at least more sophisticated. But an interest in Flannery O’Connor, Jean Stafford, and many other American writers (Southern and otherwise) had eventually convinced me that there was a specialness to American literature. I thought it best to find out more about what had been thought and written on this side of the Atlantic for the past few hundred years.

I knew that upon formally undertaking study, I would be asked to take courses in English literature and language, and in critical theory. Naïvely, and willingly, I accepted those terms. Plodding through some ancillary courses seemed...


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