Some of the most vicious literary exchanges I have ever witnessed have been over canonization. If you want to see sparks fly, walk up to a group of academics and ask them a question like one of these:
- Should Neil Gaiman be considered the same caliber of writer as Charles Dickens?
- Are graphic novels (or YA Lit, or any other popular genre you care to name) worthy of serious critical study?
Those are only examples, but you get the idea.
For best results, ask it of a group that includes several generations of academics ranging from late 20s to
early 60s and see what happens. In my experience, Millennials see the most value in popular literature, older generations favor a more traditional view of what should count as literature (though this is not true of all older scholars, to be sure), and GenXers swing both ways.
I believe criticism that aims to get at the value of a piece of writing should be criteria-based, and the criteria should exclude things like taste, religious sentiment, “popular” versus “literary,” etc. If you’d like to read a much longer piece that explores my views on how we value literature, and cultural artifacts in general (among other things), click here.
That’s my most shared post ever, despite the fact that it’s too long for a blog, that it has serious grammatical flaws, and that I did everything possible to limit its audience to a few of my closest collaborators. I refuse to even fix the grammar, because I find it interesting that so many people shared it even though it is so rough.
When I first started blogging here, I nearly wrote a post about the canonization of literature, but thought the better of it. I’m glad I did, because if I’d published such a post, it would have done nothing but cause me trouble. I’ll be happy to discuss canonization today, as long as everyone promises to be nice 🙂