What constitutes a canon and how is it created? What makes Levi Srauss a structuralist?
Levi Strauss is an anthropologist who believed very strongly that humans are the same everywhere which affected the way he approached the study of myths, forming his opinion into what is called a "structuralist" approach.
Because he saw basic underlying patterns in the myths of various cultures all over the world, he believed that a set of universal laws could govern the formation of and the explanation of myths anywhere.
According to Lévi-Strauss, "mythical thought always progresses from the awareness of oppositions toward their resolution". In other words, myths consist of:
- elements that oppose or contradict each other and
- other elements that "mediate", or resolve, those oppositions.
Because of this universal "structure," his approach was called "structuralist."
The term "literary canon" refers to a classification of literature. It is a term used widely to refer to a group of literary works that are considered the most important of a particular time period or place. For example, there can be a literary canon comprised of works from a particular country, or works written within a specific set of years, or even a collection of works that were all written during a certain time period and within a certain region. In this way, a literary canon establishes a collection of similar or related literary works. Typically, works are organized by “period” for example, such as the Neoclassical period from 1660 to 1785 in England.
Scholars who specialize in certain periods publish anthologies containing works that they deem important or essential to that period. The publisher "Norton" has compiled several anthologies containing what they believe to be the canon for a particular era and periodically updates them. One recent development in literature is the addition of female authors to well-established canons. (There are online lists as well.)