Final Blog: Canon vs Global Lit

Believe it or not, as a senior and an English major, I have never heard of the term “canon” in  literature before. Before I took a side on the “Global lit vs Canon lit” debate, I decided to understand what the term “Canon” was. So after a little bit of research I found the following.Canon is “a collection of literature that is seen as rising to a particular standard and therefore, being worthy of study.” okay, so “Canon” refers to the classics…the Hemingway’s and Eliots of the world, the kind of literature that is socially accepted as things worth reading.

I guess I started the semester with the idea  that canon and global literature have the ability to coexist with each other. I didn’t necessarily want to have to take sides, since both kinds of works taught me to comprehend different things and ideas. Even if those things are worth a second read (hello, Conrad and Faulkner). So I would have to say that , at the beginning of the course,I probably would’ve thought thought the course should be about both canon and global literature. I think it’s a good thing to view the course not only through the canon perspective, but through the eyes of  global lit as well. Not only for the different perspective each work gives you, but what you learn from one, helps fill the void left by the other.

A few semesters ago, to fulfill one of the English electives for my major, I took English 379 with Professor Alvarez. The class was officially titled “Transnational/Postcolonial Literatures” and geared toward works such as Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” and Bernal Diaz’s “The Conquest of New Spain”. Two very different works on both sides of the literary spectrum. Steinbeck alone is synonymous with canon literature. I mean, I’ve been reading his works since 7th grade.  Bernal Diaz on the other hand? not so much. But his account of his journey towards finding gold in the “new land”, the journey into the unknown, really does connect with the story of the Joad’s journey into California.

I am just now understanding that Professor Alvarez’s class taught me that canon literature isn’t necessarily the “bible” in great literature, nor is it only way to represent great ideas in literature.It’s completely possible for a Diaz or a Satrapi or even a Kingston to create great works and represent ideas that are important in great literature, even if they are not renowned enough to be considered canon. I think knowing that these more contemporary works have  such a quality takes a little more effort in deciphering what is worthy of study and what is not.

I found something really interesting in Michael’s final blog. He stated that canon literature “is a teacher’s way of taking the easy way out.” and that “the very reading of them is tainted by the fact that, for whatever reason, they are to be considered “great” by all”. I think I agree with him on that level. I think literature shouldn’t be something can is defined as “great” or “canon” or anything like that. There shouldn’t be a “go to” list for literature at all. I think it should be much more thought provoking. I think literature that is great does just that, plants new ideas in us, makes us see things differently, and therefore changes our views of everything we’ve ever known. I don’t necessarily think that that kind of “magic” can only come from a canon book. Maybe it can, but then, like Michael stated, it would be kind of like taking the easy way out in provoking such an expression, instead of assigning more contemporary works where it is not as easy.

I think with canon literature, you are almost expected to learn something. That’s exactly what I felt when I started reading “Heart of Darkness”. My mentality was “okay, I have no idea what is going on, but I guess I’m supposed to learn something from it, I mean why would it be so famous if I wasn’t supposed to get anything out of it?” However, when reading “Drown” or “Persepolis”, my mentality was more of “this is an interesting read, am I supposed to learn something from this?”. With Diaz and Satrapi, I found myself kind of “stumbling” onto the greatness of these works, rather than trying to dig for something significant out of a canon work.

So with that, I think my feelings about the relationship between canon literature and global literature have definitely changed. I still do think they are able to co-exist, but I think it all depends on what the term “great” is. And what does that mean anyway? How can there be a universal definition of “great”?  Do I think canon literature should still exist and be worth studying? of course. But do I think it should be the only way? absolutely not. I think I got just as much out of “Persepolis”, “Drown” , and “The Woman Warrior” as I did out of Hemingway, or Conrad, and that’s something that I will definitely be more aware of as a reader, and as I move toward the completion of my major. I think that alone says that there is something definitely worth studying in Global literature.

A Song for a Barbarian Reed Pipe

I think out of all the sections in the book, this one was the most interesting to read. The whole “madness” and “silence” idea is ever prominent in this section. One thing I did not understand is Maxine’s motive for torturing the quiet girl in her class.That poor girl. I wonder if Maxine did it because she wanted to be the only quiet girl? I don’t know.I just don’t get it. That part really made me not like her character, even more than I already did.

I think the whole “madness” issue has to deal to Maxine as a first generation Chinese American. On one hand she wants to adopt and enjoy the values of a typical American lifestyle, but at the same time she is pressured to preserve and practice traditions from her Chinese heritage. To even attempt to make a connection or find middle ground in these two cultures has got to cause a least a little bit of madness.  For example, Maxine’s parents desire to betroth her to a newly- Americanized Chinese man. Maxine responds to this with even more eccentric behavior,and perhaps even signifies Maxine’s fear about her future.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Maxine finds “Crazy Mary”  and the mentally challenged boy so interesting. Maybe she writes about them because she can relate to them since she sees herself as a “crazy” person.

Shaman and At the Western Palace

I couldn’t help but notice a dramatic change in Maxine’s mother in these two sections. I think “bold” would describe it best.

First, we learn the details of her job as a midwife.Her job description required the task of exterminating newborn baby girls (as it was a common Chinese society practice. )

Before I go on, there’s something that I find terrible wrong with this idea.I never understood why they did this. or why this was even allowed. After doing a bit of research I found this explanation:

“the intentional killing of baby gi rls was due to the preference for male babies and from the low value associated with the birth of females.”

Okay, so we’re going to kill females.Regardless of the fact that’s it’s a female who has the ability to give birth to males,raise them,and prepare them so that they can serve society.  So unless Chinese society places a “low value” on the improvement and contribution to the population,  I cannot understand how this was accepted as any kind of  practical idea.

Anyway, it becomes totally clear in “At the Western Palace” just how brave Maxine’s mother is. Just in the treatment of the situation with her sister and her sister’s husband alone shows how much she has the ability to “take the reigns” on things. The fact that she was bold enough to even bring her sister to California, after she hasn’t seen her in 30 years, and confronts her sister’s husband about his  total abandonment of her sister reveals a lot of her character. I think just the fact that she was able to escape the traditional housewife/mother role is admirable to Maxine.

Maybe that’s why she’s “Brave Orchid.”

The Woman Warrior

I think it is possible for Maxine to  claim to be a “Woman Warrior”,but it is society that makes it difficult.

In the first section, she is inspired by the story of the “no-name woman” a.k.a the aunt that she once had who sacrificed her life and her newborn babies life in order to escape the trap of the their society. I think that story shows significance not only in woman’s role in society, but also sparks the need to rebel against it.

I think her fantasy of “Fa Mu Lan”, the woman warrior, is a complete contrast of what Maxine’s life is really like as a female in society. Maxine is very intelligent, and I think the fact that she is aware of the how society defines and thinks of women, and knows enough to know it’s wrong (as well as to act on it) supports her claim as a “Woman Warrior” even if it’s only just a fantasy.

This part can be frustrating, and I really like Maxine’s character. I think just based on the fact that she is not content in succumbing to the society’s pressures and expectations of a woman as well as expressing her dissatisfaction (something that was most likely unheard of in Chinese culture) is commendable.

I also can’t help but wonder if this is the book that inspired the animated Walt Disney movie “Mulan” that came out about 12 years ago. The name of the woman warrior in Maxine’s fantasy is “Fa Mu Lan” and the part where she cuts off her hair and poses as a man is eerily similar to the movie as well.

Dreams from My Father: The subject of Authenticity

I know in the last class, there was a discussion on whether or not Obama’s story was truly authentic. Well, I don’t know for sure if that claim is true or not, but the subject of authenticity is certainly worth delving into.I

I know I that the subject of authenticity dealt with whether or not Obama was actually the author  of the book, but I think there may be a deeper meaning in terms of the subject. There seems to be a struggle that Obama deals with, one that is not exactly a character struggle, but it’s a struggle to discover exactly what it is to be culturally (or racially) authentic. I think his experience at prep school demonstrates this quite exactly,as well as his experience in Chicago,where he is in turmoil over whether or not he should reveal that he is of a mixed race.

I guess  whether or not Obama is actually the one the wrote the book that will always be debated, but in terms of his cultural and racial identity, the struggle is clear. For example, his quest for seeking a community in Chicago, completely illustrates his desire to not only discover his identity, but to find some sort of a link to his family and his African American identity. I think the struggle with identity  hat he had in high school (and his actions because of it) reflects his need to seek ethnic authenticity. From what I gather, I think Obama’s own contentment with his cultural and racial background  led to the discovery and acceptance of his African American identity.

Language: Is it really important?

After reading “Drown”, I am really starting to notice the importance of language in a story.  I mean, would “Drown” have been so believable if it were told in the language of say, Faulkner? (or dare I say Joseph Conrad?). Speaking of Conrad, would “Heart of Darkness” have been as confusing if he were to write in the language of Diaz?

Ok, bad example, I’m pretty sure “Heart of Darkness” would still be confusing no matter what language it’s told in but still, language is a major if not the primary factor in how a story comes across. In “Drown” specifically, the language on it’s own represents a certain class,race, and society of people. Sure the plot is important, as well as the characters and setting, but I think these are all subservient to the language. The plot, characters, and setting wouldn’t gel together cohesively if they weren’t supported by the appropriate language. It’s something that I never really took into account, realizing how important language is in the shaping of a story, but without it, I don’t think “Drown” would have kept it’s essence, as well as any other story.

‘How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie’”

well, judging by the rest of the blogs written by the class, I guess it’s no surprise that I found this one the most interesting as well. What I found so great about this was that it gave us a view of girls not only in the eyes of Yunior, but most likely in the context of the society in which he lives. It’s interesting to learn Yunior’s own analysis of girls, and the expectations of each based on cultural background and skin color. I think it not only gives a window into the society in which Yunior lives in, but it also signifies the influence that his surroundings have on him.

“Drown” and even this section in particular, is reminding me  more and more of another book I’ve read,”Nilda” by Nicholasa Mohr.The book documents the protagonist of the story, Nilda as an adolescent Puerto Rican girl  growing in New York City n the 1940’s and who,  like Yunior,is also influenced by society and her surroundings.  Race also plays a large issue in her life, as it also shapes her ideologies about people in her society.I found a similar comparison in “‘How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie’” with “Nilda”, especially in terms of racial identity. In the novel, Nilda becomes increasingly aware of what is expected of her because of her race/and or culture, much like Yunior is aware of what is expected of each girl because of their race and/or culture.

Last thoughts on Faulkner

Michael’s blog actually got me thinking about my dissatisfaction with the  ending of “The Sound and the Fury”

I too am upset that the novel ended the way it did. I do kind of wish we would have gotten some sort of closure, especially in terms of what happened to Caddy and Jason getting what he rightfully deserves (death may be a bit extreme, so I’ll just say hard punishment). I really would feel better had Faulkner at least addressed those issues. But, I do have an idea of  why he didn’t….

We’re not always going to get closure in life. A lot things may happen, families do fall apart, and sometimes nothing can be done to repair them. While it would have been nice to have a happy ending, I like the empty ending he gives us. I like that it resonates with reality, that in the end you’re not always going to have all the answers to everything. The ending also opens up your imagination on what could possible happen in the future. However, we will never know for sure whether what we imagine will end up coming true, which I admit can be frustrating.

Junot Diaz’s Drown

After reading “The Sound and the Fury”, it was a relief to finally read a story I didn’t have to constantly revert back to…..

That doesn’t mean that I wasn’t at all confused while reading this one. Though the language is easier to understand, Diaz uses a certain kind of language pertaining to the people he is talking about. Words such as “chinga” or “pendejo” signify that the language Diaz is using is symbolic of the community in which he is portraying. When read in the context of the story, it’s not that difficult to figure out what “chinga” refers to, but it’s interesting to see how Diaz takes and writes his story using the language of the community.

April 8th,1928

I have to admit, I was kind of expecting Caddy appear in this part of the book, but I was disappointed to learn that she doesn’t. I wonder if it’s on purpose that Caddy’s perspective is not included at all in the story. I’m not sure who is narrating the last part (Faulkner perhaps?) but it was definitely an interesting ending.

I guess it should have been a given that the Compson  family would be put in shambles at the end, judging by the rest of the book. I think the destruction of the Compson family was slowly coming to fruition, but the fact that Jason is the one who was given responsibility for the family only sped up the family’s demise.

In a way, I am happy for Miss Quentin. She was smart enough and strong enough to voluntarily get herself out of the chaos of the family. She didn’t let the numerous and forceful attempts from Jason to stop her from doing what she wanted to, which I think is really admirable.

But for me, I am most admirable of Dilsey. Though she’s a character that may be easily overlooked throughout the entire story, She’s also probably the only consistent, stable presence in the household, and this is made especially clear at the end of the story. If the end of the book showed me anything, it’s that this story is worth a second read, with much more attention and credit paid to Dilsey.

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