Thursday, October 29, 2009

Response to The Concept of the Canon

Before reading this article, I didn't realize that there were so many different views of what texts should be in the canon. There's the essentialist, traditionalist, pragmatist, instrumentalist, etc. It was hard to keep them all straight while I was reading the article. I think that was part of the point though. There are so many different views and there is no one correct view. He did seem to argue that part of determining whether a work of literature is a candidate for the canon is by examining its cohesiveness ("content") and the techniques the author uses to present the text ("form"). Krupat also mentions something I've never heard of: techné of delight. I'm assuming that this refers to a text's way of delighting/entertaining readers and being enjoyable to read.

Another issue that Krupat goes into is the underrepresentation of minority writers in the literary canon. He says that "the cultural expression of red, white, and black people seems to me to have a historically urgent claim to primary attention" (54). I was a little unnerved by the fact that he used the terms "red," "white," and "black" to describe ethnicities, but I suppose his intention was not to offend. This section confused me somewhat because he calls for more representation of minority writers in the canon (or at least as candidates for the canon), but doesn't propose to create a proportionate representation for these groups. He simply wants the texts of minority writers to be read and studied as much as "Euramerican" literature. It seems fair enough to me, and makes sense since the groups he mentioned are a large part of the "Western" history and literature. I'm not sure exactly how one would go about making the recognition of these texts happen, though.

The concept of the canon is so abstract (at least to me), and so is the idea of including more minorities into the canon. It requires a lot of questions to be answered concretely: Which texts are in the current canon(s)? Who decides on what goes in a canon? How do readers (serious and casual ones) know what is in the canon? How does one decide which non-Euramerican texts are worth including in the canon? Are they chosen because of their merit/"greatness" or just because they are from a minority perspective? It seems to me that for quite a long time the canon has been considered a body of "classic" texts that have been representative of particular cultures and histories, but has been excluding certain groups, either intentionally or unintentionally. From what I've gathered in Krupat's article, though, the traditional view of having "classics" (typically written by white males) in the canon is constantly being challenged by other views.


  1. Why should we be bothered by "red, white, and black"? It seems to me that a major problem with PC America is that it refuses to label anyone to the point of ignoring significant socio-historical backgrounds. To ignore words because of their perceived baggage is to make oneself blind to the meanings they convey.

    But that's nothing to do with canon, sorry.

    What solutions do you bring to the table? Yes, it seems that Krupat describes the current canon as consisting of "white classics", but he also suggests that the movement of the canon should always be questioned and repositioned. What would you add to the list of required high school reading?

    Might the concreteness of the questions "required" to solve the canon problem be, in their very difficulty, exactly that problem with the canon that Krupat attempts to point out?

    You seem to be wrestling with the problems. Great. I'm really curious to know what kinds of paradigm shifts you'd propose.

  2. I agree with you and your frustration that he didn't propose a solution at the end of the segment.

    However, I feel as if Krupat did an excellent job explaining the modern canon as it is perceived by those who have taken College courses. First Krupat acknowledges the idea that the Canon is amalgamous and is different from person to person. Yet he tries his best to define it with a definition that you used in your post. In fact, Krupat even lists out names with whom he has defined are already within this "Canon" of literature.

    To answer your question of how to diversify the canon, I believe Krupat's answer would be through Higher Education as well as through the advocacy of well-respected and established writers. These are the people who Krupat identifies that define the Canon today.

    And also the reason why Krupat used "red, "white," and "black" is to mirror the image of the colors of the U.S. e.g. Red, White, and Blue. He generalizes skin tone colors as a hypocritical critique in how the canon of today is formed by the Europeans/Americans, Native Americans, and the Afro-Europeans. Those who have created the Western Canon only look to the ethnic background and seek to not include other racial minorities.