Monday, February 9, 2009

My Literary Weekend in Three Acts and an Epilogue

What the Literary Canon looks like to me

Act I

Over the weekend, I decided there were two ways to break up my time- 1) Being the desired good student and do my homework, or 2) Read for my own pleasure. Obviously I chose #2. Book One: The Queue by Vladimir Sorokin; Book Two: Snow White by Donald Barthelme. (Also some poetry and the introduction to The Portable Beat Reader). 

Act II

Halfway thru my second reading, I realized a trend (yes yes, I was a late observer). Both had very distinct writing styles, both were post-modernists, and both were written around historical events in their respective countries (Russia- fall of communism and America- post wars). While reading the introduction to The Portable Beat Reader, I was struck by this statement [discussing Beat influences], "...others outside the canon of acceptable Anglo-American literary models." This had me asking many questions.


If enough people read and accept these pieces of work, does it become a part of the canon? Are there a multitude of canons, but people only concentrate on the 'dead-white guy' one? Does saying something is outside of the canon, automatically place it in another canon?
The End.


I posed those questions and I decided to find an answer. Here are my conclusions:

For as many groups and subgroups of people that there are, I think there are just as many literary canons. Think about it. If you asked every student sitting on the South Mall lawn what their top five books were- would those results be the same as interviewing the same number of 30-50year olds? What if you asked people categorized by their job, hair color, favorite sport, allergies, fears, number of appendages.... I think there would be some overlapping, but most would not be the same. Something I never considered is the fact that Literary Movements are trying to DEFINE a philosophy. "It was a rebellious group..., but it was one that was really dedicated to a 'New Vision.' It was trying to look at the world in a new light, trying to look at the world in a way that gave it some meaning. Trying to find values...that were valid. And it was through literature all this was supposed to be done." [hint: any Literary Movement is interchangeable here] 

Another idea that I found intriguing (and has been brought up in round-about way in class) is the concept of New Literature being Lost in Advertising. Earlier posts are dedicated to the Film portrayals of books; people discussed the advent of internet and less of a need for books; or how there was not much literary merit being produced these days. After this weekend, I disagree with the last two ideas. There will always be a need for books- whether people read them often or not is irrelevant. People like tangible things- objects they can hold. It's just a matter of making your own judgments and taking the time to shift thru everything out there. Books are like Port-a-potties. Outhouses transformed to Port-a-Johns with the advent of indoor plumbing. Books are being put online and film and audio in these modern times. But clearly the basics are still needed for both to function properly in their meaning- a hole to sit on; and printed words bound together.  [It's the only analogy I could think of] 

I also know that when I have more time (namely the summer), I will go back and Re:Read the books of this weekend. I know I missed a lot a lot a lot. The story was "... a developing photo, the entire, slow-shifting scene begins to take shape," in my mind. 
So here's to a continued story, the worn binding of a book, and to all the details we are learning to add up. 

And maybe at the end of it all, we can take something out of this quote: Literature "It's practically impossible to define. Maybe it was a term we just sold ourselves."

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