Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Concept of the Canon

First of all I'd like to apologize for how incredibly late this post is. I didn't realize this was due until I went in to talk with Professor Carmody. Anyways so here is my post on the Concept of the Canon.

At first I resonated very deeply with this article and it's critique on the "Canon" of literature. There were a lot of times when I felt as if other writers had read, referred to, and even modeled their writing after a select group of authors and their novels and I knew these were the novels I should read. In my mind, the idea of a canon gives a power of valorization to writers as a whole. I felt less of a writer because I haven't read so many authors of the supposed Canon that existed. But towards the end of it I realized that there was a problem. Krupat had essentially debased the idea of a canon without necessarily proposing a solution, at least not within the intro. And for me I was at odds with this.

The very idea of a canon is problematic, as evidenced in the great care and difficulty Krupat went into defining it. But it also is one of those topics that no matter how much you argue for either side or perception, there will always be both pro's and con's. For instance if an established canon should exist, then it serves as a template or guide for developing writers to follow and model their writing after. However who's to say what should be in the canon at all? If an established canon should not exist, then the quality of writing and literature becomes piss-poor. Yet people would have the freedom to choose who and what to model their writing after.

So as I see this as a debate with valid arguments for both sides, I will highlight some points that I thought were very perceptive of Krupat and then give my own purpose of having a canon and its function.

Krupat talked about how the current Canon is based on the "race of the Euroamerican, Native American, and Afro-American." He argues that there very well may have been other ethnic writers to write pieces of literature that could contribute to the Canon. One author that immediately comes to mind would be Amy Tan.

He also predicted how Spanish novels will soon be included in the standardized Canon. I think this is a very perceptive prediction. I already see a movement within my Spanish Literature classes, to whom he refers to as the "members of the professiorate." It's one thing to have a class read a novel in Spanish written by an author of Spanish descent. It's another thing to specifically choose texts that attack American capitalism, challenging U.S. students to reconfigure their perception of the U.S. and its policies. Even in High School, Esquival's Like Water For Chocolate and Isabel Allende's House of Spirits were required texts of my I.B. English class in my Junior year.

Krupat also noticed that it was "only recently that anyone has attempted to divorce literature from social utility." This statement ties into my last segment of my post.

I believe that people should only write if it serves a social utility. This means the piece of work is relevant to the social context its intended for and the work reveals some truth about the human experience. In my opinion, writing simply to create beauty is incredibly vainglorious and useless. Often times the most beautiful pieces of work of art are grounded in its social utility. The sculpture of David, the Sistine Chapel, and Mozart's symphony's. All of these were created for the recipient to enhance their lives and to share with them something they have experienced themselves. This is how I have come to terms with my writing and why I write. However I have an incredibly liberal view. Other authors have their own reasons for writing and I will hold nothing against them. All I am concerned about is the relationship between the audience and myself. The audience can expect from me social utility in my writing.

How I view the canon from a writer's perspective is that it is a gateway book to a genre of literature that helps us better understand how those before us tackled their own passion for writing. If the writer seeks to write in the genre of modern day suspense and terror, they could read John Grisham. If they want to write in the genre of Fiction in the mid-1900's, they could read Tolkien. And the list can go on. The point being that we learn from those before us their mistakes and their resolution of the problems they faced in their writing as well as appreciate the text as we hope our readers appreciate ours.

In this class I've been told that if we want to be writers we have to be really good readers as well. I truly believe in this concept because simply put, the more we read the more we learn. As writing itself is free-flowing, the idea of reading books from different writing styles would help us pick and choose attributes that we can select to synthesize our own style of writing.

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