April A to Z Day 3: Canon

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

Click for A-Z blog list

Click for A-Z blog list

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 🙂

Image pinned by PartTimeMonster from alorswhatnow on Tumblr

About Gene'O

Compulsive writer, amateur photographer, and blogaholic. Also an evil genius.

16 thoughts on “April A to Z Day 3: Canon

  1. yaykisspurr says:

    I think canon as far as adaptions go is very important. If you aren’t going to stick with the world as created by the original author then use it as a jumping off point for your own original work!

    As far as canonization of types of work (as you are talking about) I think it’s all up for grabs. If someone likes the work then it’s as valid as anything not liked by the same someone. We tend in today’s society to say something is or isn’t legitimate based on our own perceptions when the truth couldn’t be further from that. Cheers. 🙂 (Hope that was nice enough!)


    • Gene'O says:

      I almost talked about canon in the sense you’re referring to, but that would’ve made the post too long.

      I agree, if some one likes it, it’s valid. And what you’re saying about judging legitimacy based on our perceptions is one of the things I’m getting at here. I dislike a lot of works, but my dislike does not mean they aren’t art.


  2. eschudel says:

    I’ve seen/heard the same arguments in the music and visual arts world. And I agree with yaykisspurr – if I like something, that’s all I need. Although sometimes I admit I am hard pressed to explain WHY I like it…


    • Gene'O says:

      Yeah. I know “good” when I see it, but I have to really think about what makes it good to me quite often.

      And yes, that dispute occurs in some form in virtually ever field of creativity.


  3. Diana says:

    I’m somewhere between these two things, but I tend to have a less canonical view simply because of the problems with the way the canon has been formed and disseminated–it ghettoizes not just types of fiction, but types of writers, and rather arbitrarily, often in favor of complexity-for-complexity’s sake.


  4. R.M. Hepler says:



  5. Jean says:

    I’ve managed to avoid this discussion for a long time.

    ean, visiting for the A-Z Challenge from Rantings and Ravings of an Insane Writer


    • Gene'O says:

      I try to steer clear, but I do have a position, and I make my living in the academic underworld, so it’s unavoidable for me sometimes.

      Thanks for the visit and the link!


  6. I spent a long time and a number of posts trying to talk about canon, canonization, and all, in defense of my beloved science fiction: http://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/realistic-vs-romantic-literature/

    It took me a lot of posts to get to somewhere where I feel like I really said something thoughtful, and it got a lot of notice because of it. Because that question really does fire us up.

    And the problem is, academically, we really could use more research on any number of different genres or types of materials or writers. And in schools, we could probably engage more students by employing more of these other works. But will it happen WITHOUT them becoming canon? I just don’t know!


  7. i’m not too into the canon. but i can’t answer yes to either of those questions you posed.

    i’m glad you liked that video. :]


  8. […] 1:  Audience – Biographical – Canon – Diction – […]


  9. […] 1:  Audience – Biographical – Canon – Diction – […]


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