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On the Canon  

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  1. 1. Do you support a canon of literary works?

    • Yes, I support the classical canon (i.e. before the culture wars).
      10
    • Yes, I support a revised canon (i.e. after the culture wars; including both European/Western classics as well as classics by minority, women, LGBT, etc. writers.)
      84
    • Yes, I support a new canon (i.e. one that largely excludes European/Western classics and focuses primarily on LGBT, minority, and women writers.)
      3
    • No, I don't support any sort of canon: they are racist, (hetero)sexist, and/or imperialist.
      16
    • No, I don't support any sort of canon: they are aesthetically untenable and/or elitist.
      24


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I'm glad to see fruitful discussion on here.  That's one of the main reasons I made this thread, alongside, of course, the possibilty to gauge the perspectives of some prospective and/or current academics in English and cognate disciplines.

 

ETA: I'll respond to some of the more recent comments later on... not now, have reading to do.

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As much as I should probably let this thread stagnate, I must say that I've largely changed my opinion on this after thinking about it for a few days.  I do think that aesthetic concerns still matter,

At the risk of repeating myself: aesthetics can be (*is*) something more than dry, formal, irrelevant and a-political metrical scansion. If this is what people think "aesthetics" means than we're obvi

I really don't think Toni Morrison is a good writer at all.

Responding to various posts (sorry I can't figure out how to tag them correctly):

 

I'm actually very much in agreement with everything you said. I don't even have a problem with the investigation of aesthetic value; I just, and this is similar to what you said, think it needs to intervene in its own process and it needs to not be beholden to what it deems an objective system. The canon cannot be disposed of, but the canon project, as it stood/stands, tried to pose artificial constraints on aesthetics that aren't desirable or sustainable. As far as the taco bell thing goes, that started as a straw man and I don't feel like touching it.

 

Yeah, I think we are saying much the same thing. We should indeed be self-critical, first and foremost about art. At the end of the day, I think all that the pro-canon faction are saying is that "art matters," and I don't know that anyone's disagreeing with that. Also, for what it's worth: I'd be willing to make the same claim about Twilight that I did about Taco Bell. 

 

I'm skeptical of this rhetoric about reading texts that are "foundational" to thinking - I don't see anyone mentioning key economic texts, for example (it all seems to come back to Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the biblical texts). If we're going to talk about what is foundational for thinking - classical literature, economic theory, philosophical tracts, writings relevant to any of the world's religions, popular works, etc. are all game in terms of the formation of ideas.

 

I hope I haven't come across as advocating literature to the detriment of political economy--I mean, I'm a Marxist! So yes, I agree that Aquinas and Adam Smith are as relevant as Shakespeare or Chaucer; I restricted my examples to the literary because, as lit scholars, that's the part we'll be (primarily) responsible for teaching; in my ideal vision of the liberal-arts college people are also studying philosophy and religion and economics. That said, I do hope--personally--to teach literature in relation to all those things. 

 

 

I definitely would not say that we can't make aesthetic judgments ie. "Paradise Lost is a major aesthetic achievement." I just think the question isn't very interesting. I'd much rather ask, "How does Paradise Lost function as a piece of culture?"--for good or ill. Aesthetics are a part of that for sure, but it's not for the purpose of declaring some superior "canon" of work. Even so, if I make the aesthetic judgment that reality TV is trash (which I do), I think there still could be enormous value to a critical study of reality TV (as there could be for the pop culture of any era). Do canonical works suffer if we consider these things? I don't really think so...

 

You know, I think there's a lot of agreement behind all of our (myself included) polemical positioning. I mean, I agree that reality TV is trash, and I agree that there can be enormous value in a critical study of it. Again though, I think the question of aesthetic value is interesting, and not in some narrow pure-art-criticism sense. Succinctly put, I find aesthetics interesting precisely because it operates with a different logic than (e.g.) notions of scientific or economic value, and develops in relation (or opposition) to both of these. I guess what I'm saying is that we shouldn't just read art as a cipher of latent political or cultural content--i.e., ideology critique--but rather that aesthetics itself has its own political/cultural/economic ramifications, and that we should pay attention to these. (In all this I've been heavily influenced by the Frankfurt School; Adorno's Aesthetic Theory and Marcuse's The Aesthetic Dimension say what I'm trying to say here much better.)

 

 

And if we're talking about teaching literature, pushing the canon is often a vestige of the imperial origin of the English canon which I mentioned in an earlier post. Whether we're talking about imperial India or teaching lit today, I don't think the purpose of English education is to make students more "cultured," but to build a critical literacy for use with many different kinds of texts.

 

I agree that the English (and French, and German) canon was developed as part of an imperial project--again, Marxist here--and that this complicates any educative project. But the question here (which others have also phrased) is this: is culture anything more than a tool of power/imperialism? Or, to recode this in old-school Marxist language: is the superstructure more than the expression of the base? Marxists often face the charge of reducing superstructure to base, but at times I think Foucauldian and post-colonial scholars are more guilty of the charge: essentially, that everything becomes reduced to power structures. Which, if true, is pretty frightening. And deterministic. And self-defeating. (I mean, if Foucault's writings are themselves no more than expressions of the given power structures of his time, then they'd seem to lose all critical/liberating potential.)

 

Anyway I would say that yes, absolutely, culture partakes of power relations--there is no "pure" sphere of art untrammeled by monstrosity--but that it also possesses a critical capacity, and a utopian charge. Otherwise put, that the superstructure can also effect the base, and in multiple ways. I think we have to leave room for art to "speak truth" and not just to be a vessel or conduit of power structures for us to discern and deconstruct. (And from what vantage-point? We are also inside the systems we're critiquing!) Which is a long way of saying: the purpose of education is to build critical literacy, and to explore culture. 

 

 

But aesthetic decisions are often tied to political and ideological realities, including empire. Something like Culture and Imperialism by Said makes this point while still explicitly not dismissing the aesthetic value of the texts he analyzes.

 

Said is great. 

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Quote: I guess what I'm saying is that we shouldn't just read art as a cipher of latent political or cultural content--i.e., ideology critique--but rather that aesthetics itself has its own political/cultural/economic ramifications, and that we should pay attention to these.

 

This is EXACTLY the issue I have with those who talk about aesthetics. I have seen so many job talks and projects that think of aesthetics as beyond the political/cultural and come to plain dangerous conclusions because they refuse to accept responsibility for the politics/ramifications  surrounding certain aesthetics. I think what you're saying here seems to recognize that need for responsibility better than most others I have heard discuss aesthetics and literature.

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Actually, I really don't think I have too much to add.  Bennett's responses are all extremely insightful and show that we're all in agreement in many respects.  I'll synthesize my thinking on these issues as follows:

 

1 Aesthetics matters for many aforementioned reasons, both pragmatic and philosophic.

    1.1 Sociological and/or cultural work needs to attend to aesthetic concerns before it can move on to other things.

2 It is possible to devise a working "canon" for a specified medium of art.

    2.1 Various canons can justifiably exist for various works of art.

        2.11 I'm unconvinced that we live in a post-medium (was that the term?) world.  Analyzing and categorizing various mediums is still viable and worthwhile.

    2.2 Obviously, canons should be problematized and criticized even as we espouse and/or teach them.

        2.21 And "the canon" indeed has been used for imperialistic among other purposes which we may find problematic.  This doesn't invalidate a canon as such.

3 I deny that readings of superfluous things--such as, to use the unforgettable example given above, a grandfather's farts-- possess substantive value.  I think this is one point in which I diverge from other posters.

    3.1 I gave the Taco Bell example because it was extreme, and I believe it puts these issues into vivid relief.  There may be value in reading it (which I still think is minimal at best), but I'm not sure that's what we in literature departments should be doing.*

 

 

I think a major cause of the disagreement between myself and various posters is that I'm more linguistically/scientifically/philosophically inclined, whereas many others seem to be more socio-culturally inclined.  I think the latter is important, but it isn't for me, which may account for my obstinacy?

 

*A broader point: I feel like English as a discipline has become so all-encompassing that it has essentially lost its soul.

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I think a major cause of the disagreement between myself and various posters is that I'm more linguistically/scientifically/philosophically inclined, whereas many others seem to be more socio-culturally inclined.

 

I think that's been a common perception of many on these threads: either 1) we have the cannon/aesthetics without politics, or 2) we have politics and throw away aesthetics. Speaking for myself, I'm trying (perhaps selfishly) to eke out a space where both are tenable. So there's really two political sub-camps: pro- and anti-aesthetics. I think this has to do with different kinds of politics. Mine comes out of the (German) tradition of critical theory and Hegelian Marxism, the other out of the (French) tradition of structuralism and post-structuralism. I'd talk more about that divide, but that's another "culture war" entirely...

 

 

This is EXACTLY the issue I have with those who talk about aesthetics. I have seen so many job talks and projects that think of aesthetics as beyond the political/cultural and come to plain dangerous conclusions because they refuse to accept responsibility for the politics/ramifications  surrounding certain aesthetics. I think what you're saying here seems to recognize that need for responsibility better than most others I have heard discuss aesthetics and literature.

 

Right. During my master's, I had to take a class that was taught in the art history department, and I was frankly shocked at the professors' uncritical usage of aesthetic categories. For example, we were talking about the "sublime" in Burke, and applying it as if it were some timeless, universally valid concept. When I pointed out that Burke constructs his sublime on unabashedly racist and sexist categories (e.g. men are sublime, women merely beautiful) they looked at me in total incomprehension. It was infuriating. 

 

 

 

Bennett: I think we're pretty much in agreement (and draw from a lot of the same influences, too!).

 

Awesome! I'd love to talk about that more. Where will you end up? 

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*A broader point: I feel like English as a discipline has become so all-encompassing that it has essentially lost its soul.

 

Ha! I would love to have this conversation, and the fact that the OP would bring it up in the world of the interwebs is enlightening.

 

This begs the next question: Is a discipline being all-encompassing a bad thing? Is that not kind of, I don't know, the point?

 

EDIT: I'm not a dick. I'm just genuinely curious.

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I voted for--and will argue for--the "revised" canon. Let me say straight up: obviously the canon has been (partially) constructed on racist, sexist, classist and imperialist lines. It is the product of a racist, sexist, classist and imperialist society. Our choices of the canon will be colored by that; the writings of canonical (and for that matter, non-canonical) authors will be colored by that; we can't escape our historical embeddedness. That said, I will make three arguments for the preservation of a (revised, self-critical) canon, two of them pragmatic and one philosophical.

 

1.) Pragmatically, and once more with feeling: we can't escape our historical embeddedness. Certain texts have had a tremendous influence on our cultural and political development; the impact of the bible (e.g.) colors not just literary texts from Chaucer to Toni Morrison, but also the most fundamental categories in which we think. Even or especially if we wish to transform these modes of thinking (as I do), we need to know what it is we're trying to transform; applying "analytical rigor to epistemes" implies some knowledge of the epistemes we're analyzing, and I would call those works "canonical" which have had a huge role in shaping them.   

 

2.) Again pragmatically, and in all seriousness: what's the alternative? Insofar as an academic discipline is defined (externally) by boundaries and (internally) by a common body of knowledge, I'm not sure what becomes of "literature" as a discipline when we eradicate the canon entirely. (Of course we can--and should--apply a Foucauldian critique to the whole notion of "discipline," but that doesn't mean we can escape the problem.) Without any notion of a common body of knowledge, we become diverse "area specialists" analyzing incommensurable phenomena through incommensurable lenses; what then constitutes literature as a coherent field? There's a tension here between expansiveness and (in)coherence.

 

In recent years, I think we've resolved this tension by replacing a common object of study with a common theoretical framework; what allows the scholar of south-east Asian literature to speak to the scholar of graphic novels is their common knowledge of Foucault or Derrida or whatever. And, I mean, this sort of resolves the problem, but only by replacing a "canon" of (largely) dead European novelists with a "canon" of dead European theorists. The irony being: a) we've canonized the very figures who set out to deconstruct the canon, and B) we're now analyzing the literatures of various subaltern figures through the lens of an extremely Euro-centric theory, which is arguably still an imperialist project!

 

3.) Philosophically, I do think we need to hold onto some notion of aesthetic value--and, in contrast to some of the earlier commenters, I think this (i.e., aesthetics) is actually very interesting. Many people have pointed out that there aren't any universally objective criteria through which to establish what constitutes aesthetic value, and that's precisely the point. I mean, if you go back to Kant, you see him struggling with how to make sense of the whole notion of "beauty": on the one hand, it isn't subject to binding empirical laws (x defines the beautiful, object a possesses x, therefore object a is beautiful), on the other, he wants to keep the notion of beauty seperate from that of taste, which he sees as entirely subjective and non-binding. (I.e., I might prefer milk chocolate and you might prefer dark, but it's kind of silly to argue about which is objectively better: it's entirely a question of personal preference.)

 

Kant wants to say that "beauty" is something different than either objective knowledge or subjective taste--and I think he's right. That is, when I say something is beautiful I am making a claim without determinate knowledge which is nevertheless seeking for some sort of universality or "objectivity" beyond mere personal preference. For Kant, though, this is an "objectivity" which upends the usual sense of the term, because a) it's one which emerges immanently from the artwork as opposed to being applied to it externally, and B) it's one that can't be preemptively determined but only emerges in and through intersubjective debate. In other words, the notion of dynamism and mutability is already enshrined in the very notion of aesthetic judgment! (In that sense, yes, the cannon should shift and change.)

 

TripWillis, I am with you on the fact that literary scholars should not try to act like scientists, with you on Hegel, and with you on critically analyzing the scientific episteme(s). But to deny any merit to aesthetic "value" seems to slip into a hardcore positivism at the moment of critiquing it, suggesting that any notion which can't be empirically determined should be precipitously banished. In contrast, I think the notion of aesthetic value should be maintained precisely because it points to aporias in the scientific episteme (and, relatedly, in Kant's critical project):  i.e, to values that seem "meaningful" and yet cannot be empirically determined. (I think this is also the moment where art becomes entwined with ethics and politics: all things banished from the realm of empirical truth, which then take refuge in a newly-constituted, autonomous art as the other of reason.)

 

I could go on, but the point is: a Taco Bell menu might at times be more personally relevant than Shakespeare, I might be able to make as interesting a "reading" of it as Shakespeare, and it might serve as well as Shakespeare as an object of ideology-critique. But I think Shakespeare is indeed more beautiful than the Taco Bell menu, and I have no problem with the seeming coerciveness of that claim. (Sometimes coerciveness is not a bad thing: we try to convince each-other: otherwise what's the point?) Because to dismiss the whole notion of aesthetic value is to ignore what makes art art--what makes it something other than a Taco Bell menu--and I think that's the "value nihilism" which I and others have been finding so disturbing. 

Lots of good stuff here. All I can offer are a few points. I also have no interest in the argument about whether there should be a canon or not. As long as we live in any type of society with power relations that has something called, "Literary Studies," there will be a canon, period.

1. I don't think it's obvious to everybody that the canon was founded on imperialist, racist, and sexist lines. It may be obvious to you, but I think part of the struggle going on here is that some, even in the Humanities, would even deny, downplay, or even scoff at the suggestion that imperialism plays a role in literary studies.

2. It's not clear to me at least, that somebody who puts pressure on the canon (myself, for example) is against all forms of aesthetic valuation or aesthetics as a field of study though that seems like what some are arguing.

3. I am not sure what makes art art or who is in charge of saying art is art. Sure, you or I probably believe that Shakespeare is more beautiful than the Taco Bell menu, but we've both been trained in a certain tradition, history, culture, etc. The next question that comes to my mind, then, is why do we consider Shakespeare beautiful and what are the stakes of us trying trying to "convince each other."

Also, what is "value nihilism" and why should I be afraid of it?

I really don't know the answer to these questions and I hope somebody responds. I ask this to people in good faith and not as some kind of grad student rhetorical gesture.

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    1.1 Sociological and/or cultural work needs to attend to aesthetic concerns before it can move on to other things.

 

        2.21 And "the canon" indeed has been used for imperialistic among other purposes which we may find problematic.  This doesn't invalidate a canon as such.

3 I deny that readings of superfluous things--such as, to use the unforgettable example given above, a grandfather's farts-- possess substantive value.  I think this is one point in which I diverge from other posters.

    3.1 I gave the Taco Bell example because it was extreme, and I believe it puts these issues into vivid relief.  There may be value in reading it (which I still think is minimal at best), but I'm not sure that's what we in literature departments should be doing.*

 

 

I think a major cause of the disagreement between myself and various posters is that I'm more linguistically/scientifically/philosophically inclined, whereas many others seem to be more socio-culturally inclined.  I think the latter is important, but it isn't for me, which may account for my obstinacy?

 

*A broader point: I feel like English as a discipline has become so all-encompassing that it has essentially lost its soul.

Again, we're mostly in agreement except:

 

1.1. -- I'm not getting why, nor how this process works -- how can you address aesthetics first and how does that value determination decide whether it's worth proceeding into further inquiry? How do you not address both at the same time? Can you give me a 1.1.1?

2.21 -- no it doesn't. I hope you didn't think I was making the argument that it should be "invalidated." The word I used earlier was "interrogated."

3 -- As you said, your examples of text expansion are very extreme. Can you give me a practical example in order to set the stage for a more nuanced conversation about text expansion? I could start: performance studies. It's not as if anyone is actually drawling lines in the sand about these matters, and it's not as though one journal article about fast-food packaging destroys the discipline (btw, if anyone is writing about those things, it's most likely that they're doing it under the interdisciplinary heading of "American Studies" work, so don't worry -- English is safe from the fast-food scholars!)

3.1 -- I hope where we're getting with this conversation is recognition that what "we" "should" be doing is very difficult to make homogenous; something there is that doesn't love a literary discipline that doesn't use diverse methods (hey, Frost! Thanks, canon!) I don't want to take Shakespeare away from anyone.

 

I think the distinction you draw between the "linguistically/scientifically/philosophically inclined" scholar and the socio-culturally inclined scholar is not the stablest set of archetypes, but I understand your point. I do socio-cultural work, but it's not as though there's nothing philosophical, scientific, or linguistic about it. Actually, far from it. Let's resist these false choices about methods.

 

I think the only way interdisciplinarity and expansion causes English to "lose its soul" is if it tried to kowtow to administrative darlings like DH and such simply because they're sexy on paper.

 

Edit: I don't want to keep prodding, because I know we aren't that far apart. I'm just still struggling over a few aspects of your argument.

 

Edit 2: on the point of English losing its soul, see http://www.amazon.com/Professing-Literature-Institutional-Twentieth-Anniversary/dp/0226305597/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363574746&sr=8-1&keywords=professing+literature -- these methodological arguments have always been going. English is safe.

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Ha! I would love to have this conversation, and the fact that the OP would bring it up in the world of the interwebs is enlightening.

 

This begs the next question: Is a discipline being all-encompassing a bad thing? Is that not kind of, I don't know, the point?

 

EDIT: I'm not a dick. I'm just genuinely curious.

Being "all-encompassing" is a quick way to be irrelevant. Biologists don't pretend they know anything substantial about physics. It is currently possible to claim expertise in the discipline of "English" without reading or even accepting the existence of literature. There is absolutely zero common intellectual ground in the discipline, which is a great way to admit people who fritter about uselessly on any topic in any way with zero justification or accountability, but not so great a way of accomplishing anything substantial.

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Being "all-encompassing" is a quick way to be irrelevant. Biologists don't pretend they know anything substantial about physics. It is currently possible to claim expertise in the discipline of "English" without reading or even accepting the existence of literature. There is absolutely zero common intellectual ground in the discipline, which is a great way to admit people who fritter about uselessly on any topic in any way with zero justification or accountability, but not so great a way of accomplishing anything substantial.

Since English deals with language, which constructs basically all experience, there's bound to be disciplinary overlap. "All encompassing" is the wrong term.

 

Re: the zero common intellectual ground, for one, you're exaggerating, and for another, methodological and canonical variance sustains the discipline. It always has. Again, see Graff's book for a 200 year history of methodological and canonical debates.

 

Edit: I mean, the whole post is obviously exaggerated, so maybe I should just kick myself for taking the rhetorical bait.

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3. I am not sure what makes art art or who is in charge of saying art is art. Sure, you or I probably believe that Shakespeare is more beautiful than the Taco Bell menu, but we've both been trained in a certain tradition, history, culture, etc. The next question that comes to my mind, then, is why do we consider Shakespeare beautiful and what are the stakes of us trying trying to "convince each other."

 

Art is absolutely a culturally and historically produced/mediated concept, and its self-definition shifts across time and space. (E.g. what "art" meant in the middle ages is different from what it means now; what it means to an Amazonian tribe is different from what it means in the MoMa.) I'm in no way trying to deny that (and think it would be absurd to try to do so). The question is: can things that are culturally and historically produced still possess truth value? In my (vaguely Hegelian) usage of the term "truth," I'd say yes.

 

Money is a historically and culturally produced phenomenon that still possesses a kind of "truth," if we take that to mean established norms and communally-binding laws. Same thing for, say, democracy: it doesn't exist "out there," as some timeless and universal essence, but I still think we can form some common notion of what it means (to us). So I guess that's how I feel about art: yes, if we weren't human beings living in a certain part of a certain planet at a certain point in time, "art" and "beauty" would have different meanings. But I think that's true of everything.

 

 

 

Also, what is "value nihilism" and why should I be afraid of it?

 

IMHO: "value-nihilism" is the (historically-produced) reification of the empirical scientific method as the sole source of truth claims; i.e., we can say that it is "true" that the earth revolves around the sun, but concepts like "good" and "evil"--whether in a political, ethical or religious context--no longer have truth-value, but are instead relegated to the realm of "belief." (This is of course a huge shift from the medieval/scholastic model--which, to be clear, is not one I am advocating!) My personal response would be two-fold: first, insofar as the scientific method is itself historically produced by and filtered through human consciousness, I think we need to be skeptical of scientific claims to a "truth" radically different (or more true) than any other. Second, that we should be equally skeptical of the idea that (e.g.) the "true" political good cannot be ascertained, but is a matter of personal preference. Among other things, I think that notion is wonderfully complicit with a latently capitalist ideology: relegating the political/social/environmental good to the realms of personal taste precludes any effective means to establish a course of action, leaving politics the secretarial role of supervising our individual pursuit of personal preference/taste. (Not to get too Marxist all up in here.)

 

 

 

I really don't know the answer to these questions and I hope somebody responds. I ask this to people in good faith and not as some kind of grad student rhetorical gesture. 

 

I took it as such! And responded in kind. On an unrelated note: will you be attending the prospective students' thing at Minnesota this coming week? I also got into CSDS, and would love to continue this chat in person.

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Understandable but altogether miserable, thestage. I wish there were a way to remain relevant within the discipline while still accomplishing something worthwhile. Obviously, in increments, literary study is worthwhile because it makes us better individually in the least, and I love that; however, there has to be a philosophical reason for it all. This is a can of worms that has gotten entirely too wide for a simple internet discussion, but what are we doing if not trying to propel the human race? What good does it do us if we know Heloise and Abelard and we can't dignify it within our modern sense? How can we measurably know that Polonius is a shit-eating politician if we don't compare him to current government bureaucrats? How do we discuss the psychological make-up of Oscar Schell without fully examining our own relationships with terrorist attacks in the 21st century?

 

 

WHY ARE WE ALL STILL KILLING EACH OTHER?

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This sort of attitude is so pernicious.  Making value judgments isn't a bad thing; for example, if we agree on anything, it's that close reading is good, whereas its opposite-- careless, absent-minded reading-- is bad.  We can make judgments about literary value as well without it being totally arbitrary or merely a function of our race, class, ideology, etc.  Surely Shakespeare is more worth reading in a literary context than, say, the menu board at Taco Bell?

 

 

Indeed.  We're doomed.

 

Though this is a bit tangential, one of my undergrad professors is deeply interested in Shakespeare's continuing relevance and seemingly inescapable, transcendent nature. She's written a few books specifically about Shakespeare as a cultural property, not a literary one (e.g., Extramural Shakespeare by Denise Albanese).

 

I mention her approach as it seems to explore the ongoing canonical debate and shift, culture-as-art, and why we view certain authors and texts as eminently worthy while others are not.

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I took it as such! And responded in kind. On an unrelated note: will you be attending the prospective students' thing at Minnesota this coming week? I also got into CSDS, and would love to continue this chat in person.

Thanks for the whole reply. But specifically, yes I will be attending Sunday and Monday and yes I am sure we will continue this conversation in person. Let me PM you.

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What on earth does this mean? Just curious

I think the only way interdisciplinarity and expansion causes English to "lose its soul" is if it tried to kowtow to administrative darlings like DH and such simply because they're sexy on paper.

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I think the canon has a purpose. It gives you a background for all the major literary reference points of a few thousand years. It doesn't mean I particularly like everything in it or that I think we should maintain the same narrow focus going forward, but it has a purpose.

This is a pretty good way of looking at it. It's important to know influence, even if you don't do "influence studies" per se.

 

Edit: Basically, it's the duty of everyone who does not particularly like the capital-C Canon to know it very well.

 

What on earth does this mean? Just curious

DH = Digital Humanities. I like interdisciplinary stuff like digital humanities in theory, but I worry that, as with cognitive criticism, darwinist criticism, etc., it's part of a not-so-new trend to make humanities a science that produces results quantitative and satisfying to administrative capitalists -- it's similar to what was being tried with formalism, but way way crasser and also less interesting. I think the pressure to make English a science comes from anxiety over its being underfunded by comparison to the sciences. As I said earlier, along with Bennett, I think humanities has to maintain some autonomy from the sciences and analyze scientific epistemes. It has to be the conscience of the sciences.

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I tend think that imperialism, racism, classism, sexism, etc. DOES invalidate the cannon. I necessitates it being re-figured.

 

Just looking at the history of main-line 20th century poetry - I would love if the "cannon" tossed out Elliot, Pound, Frost, etc. in favor of a much weirder (and more interesting) bag of texts: Manifesto driven -isms, Mina Loy, Patriarchal Poetry Stein, Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven, Lorraine Neidecker, Jean Toomer, mystical H.D., etc., etc., etc.

 

Also, shouldn't the cannon be more related to pedagogical aims (one can only teach so much in a survey course) than it is to research. Texts that are canonical may overlap with research [you're going to have to have to know certain philosophers if you're an early modern scholar, for example] - that doesn't mean the cannon needs to be the at the center of one's research. In fact, I tend to think work that finds it center in the cannon is often boring and uninteresting.

De-center your research.

 

 

Also, I would love to see a dissertation chapter that read Joe Wenderoth's Letters to Wendy's in relation to a Wendy's menu. That would be awesome, and it would be "literature" centric.

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Just looking at the history of main-line 20th century poetry - I would love if the "cannon" tossed out Elliot, Pound, Frost, etc. in favor of a much weirder (and more interesting) bag of texts: Manifesto driven -isms, Mina Loy, Patriarchal Poetry Stein, Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven, Lorraine Neidecker, Jean Toomer, mystical H.D., etc., etc., etc.

 

Half of these figures are canonical.

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Being "all-encompassing" is a quick way to be irrelevant. Biologists don't pretend they know anything substantial about physics. It is currently possible to claim expertise in the discipline of "English" without reading or even accepting the existence of literature. There is absolutely zero common intellectual ground in the discipline, which is a great way to admit people who fritter about uselessly on any topic in any way with zero justification or accountability, but not so great a way of accomplishing anything substantial.

 

+1

 

My favorite post in this thread, hands down.

 

Again, we're mostly in agreement except:

 

1.1. -- I'm not getting why, nor how this process works -- how can you address aesthetics first and how does that value determination decide whether it's worth proceeding into further inquiry? How do you not address both at the same time? Can you give me a 1.1.1?

2.21 -- no it doesn't. I hope you didn't think I was making the argument that it should be "invalidated." The word I used earlier was "interrogated."

3 -- As you said, your examples of text expansion are very extreme. Can you give me a practical example in order to set the stage for a more nuanced conversation about text expansion? I could start: performance studies. It's not as if anyone is actually drawling lines in the sand about these matters, and it's not as though one journal article about fast-food packaging destroys the discipline (btw, if anyone is writing about those things, it's most likely that they're doing it under the interdisciplinary heading of "American Studies" work, so don't worry -- English is safe from the fast-food scholars!)

3.1 -- I hope where we're getting with this conversation is recognition that what "we" "should" be doing is very difficult to make homogenous; something there is that doesn't love a literary discipline that doesn't use diverse methods (hey, Frost! Thanks, canon!) I don't want to take Shakespeare away from anyone.

 

I think the distinction you draw between the "linguistically/scientifically/philosophically inclined" scholar and the socio-culturally inclined scholar is not the stablest set of archetypes, but I understand your point. I do socio-cultural work, but it's not as though there's nothing philosophical, scientific, or linguistic about it. Actually, far from it. Let's resist these false choices about methods.

 

I think the only way interdisciplinarity and expansion causes English to "lose its soul" is if it tried to kowtow to administrative darlings like DH and such simply because they're sexy on paper.

 

Edit: I don't want to keep prodding, because I know we aren't that far apart. I'm just still struggling over a few aspects of your argument.

 

Edit 2: on the point of English losing its soul, see http://www.amazon.com/Professing-Literature-Institutional-Twentieth-Anniversary/dp/0226305597/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363574746&sr=8-1&keywords=professing+literature -- these methodological arguments have always been going. English is safe.

 

Rupert Pupkin basically summed up what I mean by doing aesthetics "first."  I'm just saying that we need to pay attention to aesthetics, even when we're doing socio-cultural work.

 

I do think that my being more philosophically/scientifically inclined does affect my views on these things to some extent.  I think cognitive and evolutionary psychological criticism is really interesting, whereas you seem to dislike it (or it at least worries you, as you mention in another post).

 

Concerning less extreme expansions of the canon: keep Twilight out of it, for the love of god.  Some academics already take stuff like that seriously.

 

 

Added Nystrom: "To paraphrase: 'What is a take-out menu not, anyway? Everything, of course. What is a take-out menu? Nothing, of course.'"

 

The nature of categories is that they must define something, but not everything.  This is at first glance a banal point.  But if we expand literature to include everything--a post-it note in the gutter, take-out menus, scribbles on a junior high school student's homework-- we risk the category "literature" becoming meaningless.  Some of you seem okay with that, which disturbs me.

 

At this point, I feel like we're mostly talking past each other.  I think I've said most of what I wanted to say.  Let's save the rest for the journals, shall we? ;)

 

ETA: These closing remarks are for everyone, not inextrovert specifically.

Edited by Two Espressos
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too much to respond to most anything here individually, but i will say i'm in the anti-canon camp, with the caveat that i am pro-required survey courses, which are obviously going to be at least somewhat canon-based. so basically, an emphatic 'yes' to what fishbucket has said, while acknowledging that the canon is elitest & largely irrelevant to me as a scholar (though marginally important to me as a future teacher).

 

case in point: i've never read paradise lost, but i know enough to understand how it matters & why it matters in the grand scheme of things, & i can spot a milton reference. but it really boils down to intertextuality (i.e. frankenstein is better if you've got a grip on paradise lost, regardless of whether or not you actually read it, but you can still read it & appreciate it & analyze it without ever having heard of milton (both of which are canonical texts, but the same logic holds true with stuff outside the canon as well (i.e. gun, with occasional music is better if you're at least aware of pulp detective novels, but you can still get it even if you've got no idea who chandler is), & it works across canonical distinctions (stephen king's dark tower series draws on browning, eliot, spaghetti westerns, the sex pistols, the wizard of oz, king's own body of work, & on & on & on))).

 

& re: this talk of a nihilist abyss & science & truth claims &c, being anti-canon is basically just being a positive nihilist. which privileges subjective over "objective" truth any day of the week. which is largely why we positive nihilists are anti-canon in the first place.

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