No doubt some of my readers will take umbrage at this claim. One of the ways that zealots on both sides of the political spectrum teach people not to think is to insist, first, that you should always be ready to take offense at what you read, and second, that you should not read anything that you consider offensive.
The difference between these two phrases is much vaster than is usually recognized. Mark Twain once did the world a favor by exhuming one of these last, an otherwise forgotten midth century American novel, The Enemy Conquered; or, Love Triumphant by Samuel Watson Royston.
Have there been great works of literature that nobody recognized as masterpieces at the time, until they were hauled back up out of obscurity at a later date?
So a canon is always changing, always contested, and always unfair. Factors other than literary merit and relevance have their inevitable roles, too, ranging from ethnic, gender, and class prejudice all the way to temporary vagaries of cultural taste that make the appeal of this or that literary gimmick irresistible for a while, and incomprehensible thereafter.
I mean that quite literally.
Even in the most brilliant of literary cultures, a century might see a dozen genuine masterworks and a couple of hundred really good pieces of writing. In any canon there are certain works that everyone, or nearly everyone, agrees on, certain others that are less unanimously included, and a fringe of works that this or that subculture of fans consider to be canon fodder and everybody else dismisses.
In the same way, how often you like to push the boundaries of your literary palate with exotic fare is up to you. To teach someone what to think is to prescribe the answers they will come up with. A very large part of the cultural senility I mentioned earlier arises out of the simple fact that most Americans read only recent books, and thus cut themselves off from the thoughts that shaped their own history and culture.
In the meantime, though, each of us has the power to choose whatever reading material we want to take in during our spare time, and those of my readers who are raising children have some influence over what they read.
The second is to find a balance between works that come out of your own cultural background and works that come from elsewhere. Mutual incomprehension is the usual result.
How to think, please note—not what to think. This allows the canon to shape itself, and reshape itself, as an organic expression of the experience of a community. Who makes these decisions? In most cases, this is exactly what they deserve.
This kind of problem arises routinely whenever a society fulfills two criteria. The current bickering between the political correctness of the left and the patriotic correctness of the right is a familiar phenomenon in cultural history.
The first is to read things that were written before you were born. There are three characteristics of a canon that deserve attention here. All this presupposes, of course, a very different attitude toward the past, and the literary and other legacies of the past, than the zealots of left and right like to encourage these days.
How does a canon teach people how to think?is and in to a was not you i of it the be he his but for are this that by on at they with which she or from had we will have an what been one if would who has her.
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte - Throughout history the idea of the hero or heroine has changed, but some common attributes remain. The hero claims Bill Butler: “is an archetypal figure, a paradigm who bears the possibilities of life, courage, love – the indefinable’s which themselves define our human lives”.
Free fictional story papers, essays, and research papers. Last week’s post on the spooky dimensions of reading—the one-on-one encounter, in the silent places of the mind, with another person’s thinking—sparked a lively discussion on the comments page, and no shortage of interesting questions.
One of the points that was brought up repeatedly, though, focused on one of the points that I didn’t address.Download