Revising the Literary Canon Criticism: Overviews And General Studies - Essay

Cornel West (essay date Fall 1987)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Minority Discourse and the Pitfalls of Canon Formation,” in Yale Journal of Criticism, Vol. 1, No. 1, Fall, 1987, pp. 193-201.

[In the following essay, West discusses some of the factors that have influenced the Afro-American literary canon since the 1960s, noting that many of the works included actually reproduce and reinforce traditional cultural models.]

What does it mean to engage in canon formation at this historical moment? In what ways does the prevailing crisis in the humanities impede or enable new canon formations? And what role do the class and professional interests of the canonizers play in either the enlarging of a canon or the making of...

(The entire section is 3517 words.)

Joe Weixlmann (essay date March 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Opinion: Dealing with the Demands of an Expanding Literary Canon,” in College English, Vol. 50, No. 3, March, 1988, pp. 273-83.

[In the following essay, Weixlmann argues for a balanced approach to curriculum planning—one which combines canonical, “high culture” works with multi-ethnic, noncanonical ones.]

Until recently, some would have us believe, it was easy. A literary pantheon existed (in metaphorical stone), and worship of the enshrined was required of any critic or other student of literature seeking to earn his or her wings. Today, most of us know better—as most, I suspect, have known all along. To consider carefully the concept of an...

(The entire section is 5034 words.)

Hazard Adams (essay date Summer 1988)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Canons: Literary Criteria/Power Criteria,” in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 14, No. 4, Summer, 1988, pp. 748-64.

[In the following essay, Adams sets out the theoretical bases for the debate between historical and aesthetic approaches to literary canon formation.]


W. B. Yeats' poem “Politics” has as its epigraph Thomas Mann's remark, “In our time the destiny of man presents its meaning in political terms.”1 Yeats chose the epigraph in 1938, just before World War II, for a poem proclaiming that sexuality holds his interest more than politics. This still may be true for poets, but by the looks of things, not...

(The entire section is 7662 words.)

Herbert Lindenberger (essay date 1990)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Normality of Canon Change,” in The History of Literature: On Value, Genre, Institutions, Columbia University Press, 1990, pp. 131-47.

[In the following excerpt, Lindenberger studies three separate instances of canon change, noting that the process is a continual one in the humanities and commenting on some circumstances that drive canon change.]

I propose to look at three instances of canon change from widely separated times and places.

The first may well be a familiar scene—a meeting of an English department graduate committee that has been called to update the master's degree reading list for the first time in two decades. The...

(The entire section is 7066 words.)

Karen R. Lawrence (essay date 1992)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Introduction: The Cultural Politics of Canons,” in Decolonizing Tradition: New Views of Twentieth-Century “British” Literary Canons, edited by Karen R. Lawrence, University of Illinois Press, 1992, pp. 1-19.

[In the following essay, Lawrence discusses some of the sociological, cultural, literary, historical, and political currents at play in determining and changing the literary canon.]

It seems that everyone is talking about canons today, but the debate has entered a new phase. On the one hand, we have reached a point where canonical reconsideration has become fashionable within academe. A colleague who is editing a book on canons recently wrote to...

(The entire section is 7869 words.)

James S. Baumlin (essay date Fall 2000)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Reading Bloom (Or: Lessons Concerning the ‘Reformation’ of the Western Literary Canon),” in College Literature, Vol. 27, No. 3, Fall, 2000, pp. 22-46.

[In the following essay, Baumlin explores Harold Bloom's landmark work Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, criticizing Bloom for deliberately obfuscating the difference between religious and literary categories.]

He will observe this rule concerning the canonical Scriptures, that he will prefer those accepted by all catholic Churches to those which some do not accept; among those which are not accepted by all, he should prefer those which are accepted by the largest...

(The entire section is 11042 words.)