Cultural criticism and the canon
The first generations of cultural critics helped shape the literary canon—those works of literature generally described as most important and most worthy of being read and taught. Later cultural critics challenged the very notion of a canon, consciously expanding their focus to include neglected or marginalized works to demonstrate how poetry and fiction previously excluded from serious study actually helps reveal the biased nature of both canonical works and the ideologies that influenced critics in promoting them as great literature. Where Arnold, Leavis, and their fellow humanists and moralists valued poems that seemed to be universal in appeal, modern cultural critics celebrate difference and diversity in poetry.
Most poststructuralist cultural critics are leftist but not necessarily Marxist. They reject any attempt to read poetry as part of a comprehensive worldview or to have poetry’s meanings limited by any one critical approach. Poststructuralists are often concerned with who or what has been marginalized in a text and with discrepancies in a work that seem to challenge the dominant political or moral ideology at work during the time a poem was written. The new generation of cultural critics shares affinities with scholars engaged in ethnic, race, gender, gay and lesbian, and class studies, in that it is particularly interested in what texts reveal about issues of oppression, discrimination, marginalization, or exclusion. In fact, some of the...
(The entire section is 404 words.)