Saturday, September 10, 2011

Canon Fodder

Depending where you happen to be and when you happen to have been there, American Literature will be as difficult to identify as a lineup of suspects in a police station.

Extending the metaphor, selecting role models for what constitutes and does not constitute American Literature is of a piece with taking a youngster to the animal shelter to chose a dog.

A good deal of what may or may not be American Literature depends on who is or is not defining the standards of educational competence, which coms down to the politics of religious conservatives mounting commando assaults on school boards and library committees.

Because of one strong segment of your reading interests, you think American Literature is defined to a larger extent than is commonly accepted by crime fiction, your own definition of crime fiction broad enough to include To Kill a Mocking Bird, but also One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the former being about the fallout of behavior that was not a crime but made to seem as though one had been committed, the latter about a seasoned criminal who came forth with a hoped for solution to another prison term.

Fond as you were of the Hemingway short stories as a younger man, you vastly prefer the prose textures of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond chandler, and see the noir and hardboiled styles having more of a role in describing culture than the managed propaganda of boosterism for middle class values that are more  cultural fantasies than workable ethos.

Alternate universe, science fiction, and speculative fiction are more interesting to you than reflections on the gradual fading of values that reflect an attempt to imitate European visions of social class behavior.

Education is often presented as familiarity with a particular canon or body of work.  In that sense, it becomes easy to substitute the word values for canon; you are educated if you are literate in our propaganda.  If you are lacking, you by default become unworthy of joining our clubs, working for our firms,marrying our daughters, sending your children to our schools, praying in our tabernacles, your remains laid to rest in our cemeteries, your spiritual essence welcomed in our turf in the after life.

The men and women who have composed and presently describe our landscape at the highest levels of truth telling and accuracy are not necessarily those who are invited to the awards dinners when the medals for canon are being awarded.

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