We must therefore read the great canonical texts, and perhaps also the entire archive of modern and pre-modern European and American culture, with an effort to draw out, extend, give emphasis and voice to what is silent or marginally present or ideologically represented...in such works. Culture and Imperialism, 66.He is understanding "canonical" in the broader sense--the "great books" point of view. On the one hand, the emphasis lies with the latter part of the sentence: one reads against the grain, fills in the gaps, takes highly ideological representations of colonial situations (in this case, in the Caribbean and India) and, thereby, reads these works by those who have been (mis)represented. (There is a parallel in, for example, feminist biblical criticism to read the Bible--an andro-centric text--from the position of those (mis)represented; that is, women.) But this reading, in fact, must be balanced with the first, anchoring clause: "We must therefore read the great canonical texts." One must, indeed, know the texts--and know them well and thoroughly--to critique them. In some ways, Said can be read as a great champion of the Euro-American "Great Books" curriculum. The Post-Colonial critique of the Euro-American "canon" reasserts or solidifies that canon; the feminist and other critiques of the biblical canon reinforces that canon. The next step, however, is to bring this reinforced canon into dialogue with the extra-canonical (think bringing Conrad into dialogue with Chinua Achebe).
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Edward Said on the Importance of Canon
As someone who, on the one hand, has and highly enjoys teaching broad core curricular courses (e.g., Columbia University's Literature of the Humanities) that stretch you as both instructor and student, allowing a broader view of things than is typical in teaching and especially research, and, on the other hand, always attempts to familiarize students with texts outside of "canon" (whether strictly understood in terms of the biblical canon or more loosely in terms of a "literary canon"), I find the following statement by Edward Said quite striking: