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.

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1 Comment

  1.   lisamaher Said:

    on December 23, 2010 at 3:40 am

    I liked your thoughts on what “great” is. I think, though, that part of the point of these classes is to get us thinking about what is “great” and who gets to define it. In some cases, it is a school’s administration or a canonical source. I think, though, in more instances it is the reader who decides what is great and why, based on their life experience and understanding of the world.

    Great post.

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