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A canon is a body of books and, more broadly, music and art that scholars generally accept as the most important and influential in shaping culture.


  • The relevance of canonicity has nothing to do with the notion of codified establishments of hierarchical judgment (for which it typically attracts revisionist hostility). Instead, canonicity is important as the capacity to permit vibrant reading relationships to works from the past. ... Whatever else the canon may do, its primary function has been the preservation of the reception of literature across periodic borders, thereby calling into question the significance of those borders or the fetishism of contexts. The canon tunnels under the Berlin Wall that periodizers erect between literary regimes. As a fundamental level, therefore, periodization stands at odds with canonicity. Canonicity maintains, cultivates, and develops community over time and across generations; periodization breaks up that identity and suppresses the historical continuities through a strategy of temporal separation.
    • Russell Berman, Fiction Sets You Free: Literature, Liberty and Western Culture (2007), p. 19
  • You have a personal mythology, whether you realize it or not, and it will come through in your writing. If you want to write meaningful things, you should work to enrich your personal mythology, so that you're not just regurgitating Harry Potter and the Marvel multiverse. Immerse yourself in texts that are ancient and powerful. Canon matters.
    • D.J. Butler
  • Precisely by inculcating a critical attitude, the "canon" served to demythologize the conventional pieties of the American bourgeoisie and provided the student with a perspective from which to critically analyze American culture and institutions. Ironically, the same tradition is now regarded as oppressive. The texts once served an unmasking function; now we are told that it is the texts which must be unmasked.
    • John Searle, "The Storm Over the University", The New York Review of Books, December 6, 1990

See also

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