What is the Literary Canon?

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November 8, 2012 by Aaron

What the literary Canon is Not.

The literary canon isn’t a list. There isn’t a group of bearded intellectuals updating an ancient scroll in a dark cellar somewhere, unfortunately. That would be impressive. There are hundreds, if not thousands of different “canons.” There isn’t a general rule when it comes to becoming canonized. It just kind of happens.

No, not a “Cannon.”

So What is the Literary Canon?

The literary canon is essentially works that have been widely accepted as embodying the “essence” of their time. To make it a little more ambiguous, there isn’t only one canon. A few, for example, could be classified by the areas of origin, like American Literature, European Literature, British Literature, etc. To make matters worse, these canons can be further dissected into sub-canons.

American Literature can be viewed as a collection of African American literature, (or even Slave Narratives as a more precise canon inside of African American Literature) Colonial Literature, Native American Literature; the list goes on and on. The truth is, all published literary work somehow affects the canon in one way or another. So everything makes up the literary canon.

“You have to have a canon so the next generation can come along and explode it.” – Henry Louis Gates

So Where are We Supposed to Start?

There is no right answer here. You can start wherever you want. Read anything and everything. Every piece of written word belongs, like a puzzle piece, to every other. Currently I am reading Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and Daniel Gilbert–who happens to have a small footprint, but his book Stumbling on Happiness may have a long-term effect on literature. But no one told me what to read, or who to read. We all just have to find our own niche. I enjoy the Beat Generation, the Lost Generation, and non-fiction immensely, but my roommate prefers science fiction and fantasy. We are both right.

So Where is The Canon Revised Going to Start?

Oh, I don’t really know. We will probably just stumble around analyzing anything that catches our fancy. Hopefully We’ll stumble on some pretty fantastic literature along our way. That is, hopefully we choose wisely and develop something compelling to keep you knocking on our door for book related things.

“All my life I’ve looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time.” – Ernest Hemingway


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