Monday, July 18, 2005

What are the prerequisites for a "national literature"?

We Meridians stumbled onto this question as Mrs. Meridian and I were discussing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which she had just finished reading, without her giving away any spoilers.
It seems like a simple question, doesn't it? But the more we talked about it, the more complicated (read: frustrating) it became, especially in the case of that thing I claim to have a specialization in, "American Literature." Where to start? Whom to include? and, crucially: on what grounds would you start there and with that person?
It's the "on what grounds" part that I'm most interested in, and I hope those interested will see fit to comment. Those grounds will shift, of course, depending on the national literature discussed, but here's where to start: what, at base, should a canon of a national literature reflect?
I have some ideas on this that I'll post on later, and I look forward as well to responding to your comments.

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René López Villamar said...

I think, that, at it best, a national canon should reflect the culture that gives rise to it. This is very complicated, by teh way.

For example, take the famous (I hope she's still famous on the other side of the border) Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. In Mexico, she's considered Mexican and it's central to our canon, but since she wrote during the colonial period, she could be considered Spanish (as Bloom considers in his canon).

On the other hand, no one would consider Lautreamont or his literature to be Urguguayan.

Anonymous said...

I take you point, but isn't it the case - wasn't it always the case - that works have influences beyond the borders in which they are produced? To create a "national literature" or "canon" is to identify a shared tendency - albeit strong - to the detriment of other, perhaps equally strong characteristics.

I'm sure this was part of what you meant when you said that this is complicated, but I think it needs so be stated.

And what does it mean to be in the canon? I'm sure that, right below Shakespere, Paradise Lost is in the canon of my country but will it ever be read beyond the university? Is this wrong? Is this a shame? Personally I don't think so.