Nick Carbone (nickc@MARLBORO.EDU)
Thu, 10 Oct 1996 15:57:02 -0400

On Thu, 10 Oct 1996, Eric Crump wrote:

> How about this? Can we keep the idea of canon but strip it of its
> petrifying institutional power? Can we open the possibility of millions of
> canons, of canons that are fundamentally unstable, that are constructed
> idiosyncratically and shift continually? Canons that are only snapshots of
> knowledge, products of the moment but eternal processes of the intellect?
We can, as long as we can keep the snapshots moving. But part of why
there are canons is that we can trace influence, can show how sources that
were once primary effect that which followed, either directly, as in the
traditional canon when Philip Sidney reckons, in his "Defence of Poesy,"
with Plato's views of poets as described in _The Republic_. So there is
the sense of intellectual genealogy at work. Or, there is also Bloom's
notion of anxiety of influence, wherein later artists suspend the
recognition that they are influenced, or there is archetypal continuity,
or there is the continuity, and thus tradition ironic distancing.
Deconstructin and Post-Structuralists and Post-Modernist know all this has
gone before and go the extra step of showing how it's all ultimately
arbitrary and that there are reasons beyond pure aesthetics and spiritual
renewal that things get accepted as great.

But in so far as those are *ways of reading*, reading and interpreting
text by rules they lay down, a philosophy and system of reading, they
inevitably become, to some degree, institutionable systems, as much as New
Criticism (remember I.A. Richards), or Marxist theories or historical or
feminist. Choose your lense, choose your interpretative rules, and you've
chosen a path. Ain't no such thing as chaos, Eric, except in short bursts
afterwhich, in exhaustion or by force, or by serendipity sometimes grace,
things fall into a place and people choose an order to have some
consolation and stay (to borrow from Matthew Arnold).

Now see, if you could keep the canons dynamic...dynamic canons, or for you
Vegas fans, Dyan Canons, then that might change. But, man, I don't where
*that* much energy will be found--constantly suspending closure always
and forestalling connections to keep everything in play. It'd be like
living in perpetual popcorn popping.

Nick Carbone, Writing Instructor
Marlboro College
Marlboro, VT 05344