S Literature Essays

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Books continue to matter, of course, but not in the way that earlier generations took for granted.

In 2004, “the most influential cultural figure now alive,” according to contains more references to Dylan than to Stephen Crane and Hart Crane combined.

Because a canon of vastly superior ancient writers — Homer, Virgil, Cicero — already existed, a modern canon had been slow to develop.

One way around this dilemma was to create new ancients closer to one’s own time, which is precisely what John Dryden did in 1700, when he translated Chaucer into Modern English.

Alongside essays on Twain, Fitzgerald, Frost, and Henry James, there are pieces about Jackson Pollock, Chuck Berry, the telephone, the Winchester rifle, and Linda Lovelace.

Apparently, “literary means not only what is written but what is voiced, what is expressed, what is invented, in whatever form” — in which case maps, sermons, comic strips, cartoons, speeches, photographs, movies, war memorials, and music all huddle beneath the literary umbrella.Some canonical writers conveyed this with linguistic brio, others through a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of experience; and their books were part of an ongoing conversation, whose changing sum was nothing less than the history of ideas.To mess with the canon was to mess with civilization itself.is designed to strengthen argumentation skills and deepen understanding of the relationships between the reader, the author, the text, and critical interpretations.Its lessons about clarity, precision, and the importance of providing evidence will have wide relevance for student writers.Dylan may have described himself as “a song-and-dance man,” but Marcus and Sollors and such critics as Christopher Ricks beg to differ.Dylan, they contend, is one of the greatest poets this nation has ever produced (in point of fact, he has been nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature every year since 1996). Up until the eighteenth century, the only true makers of creative work were poets, and what they aspired to was not literature but poesy.Canonization, of course, also referred to the Catholic practice of designating saints, but the term was not applied to secular writings until 1768, when the Dutch classicist David Ruhnken spoke of a canon of ancient orators and poets. may pass current with a Poet’s name.” A similar nod toward hierarchies appeared in Daniel Defoe’s ” could be used to establish rankings such as “great Genius & fine writer,” “fine writer,” “middling Poet,” and “one never to be read.” In 1756, Joseph Warton’s essay on Pope designated “four different classes and degrees” of poets, with Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton comfortably leading the field.The usage may have been novel, but the idea of a literary canon was already in the air, as evidenced by a Cambridge don’s proposal in 1595 that universities “take the course to canonize [their] owne writers, that not every bold ballader . By 1781, Samuel Johnson’s had confirmed the canon’s constituents — fifty-two of them — but also fine-tuned standards of literary merit so that the common reader, “uncorrupted with literary prejudice,” would know what to look for.The canon — later the canon of Great Books — endured without real opposition for nearly two centuries before antinomian forces concluded that enough was enough.I refer, of course, to that mixed bag of politicized professors and theory-happy revisionists of the 1970s and 1980s — feminists, ethnicists, Marxists, semioticians, deconstructionists, new historicists, and cultural materialists — all of whom took exception to the canon while not necessarily seeing eye to eye about much else.


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