Eagleton: We are what we make of ourselves

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"...Shakespeare was not great literature lying conveniently to hand...he is great literature because the institution constitutes him as such" (Eagleton 176).

This is something about literature that has always bothered me.  Why is it that I should love Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or any other author?  When it was determined that these are the people everyone needs to read, I was not asked for my opinion, yet i am most definitely part of that everyone group.  One of my favorite books will likely never be part of any literary canon, the title is "World War Z" and it is written as a collection of interviews with survivors after a zombie apocolypse has taken place.  There is just as much to be found in this work as there is in any play by Shakespear, but why is it not taken as seriously as Shelley's "Frankenstein"?  I hate the powers who be, I constantly have to fight them, but have no chance of winning because i don't know who it is im fighting.  They are without names, and without faces.  Kind of like the group the smoking man belonged to on the x files, they exist without our knowledge, but make our most important decisions for us.


Angela Palumbo said:

Have you ever read 1984? This is a great book that I think you would enjoy because it shows what could happen if the government got too much power. I believe that the book may even be online if you are interested.

We have been having this discussion in Young Adult Literature all semester. These days, Catcher in the Rye may not be as relevant to teenagers as say Hard Love but we continue to read Catcher anyway. Wouldn't it be better to have teenagers read something that is entertaining yet literary instead of just literary. Shouldn't we want to make our kids want to read by giving them things that will interest them?

Derek Tickle said:

Very good quote!

How can we define institution? Is it professionals or is it how society views particular forms of literature?

Lets look at this from an educational viewpoint. Why do we have to teach the traditional plays of Shakespeare in a high school honors English class? Is it because it has always been this way and no one wants to deny that these works are great pieces of literature (I'm not, but only presenting an alternate view).

When will the students have the choice to chose what they want to read? I don't mean that they can just read anything, but I think that it would be very interesting if we stepped aside from the politics of literature and let society make choices.

Jenna said:

I agree that the literary canon is very limiting. However, I am a person who loves to read the "classics" and like when they are taught in classes. I think that many of today's works will eventually go into the literary canon, just not enough time has passed. Angela, are you sure you cannot find any entertainment from Catcher in the Rye (italics)? It all depends on the reader and I think that we keep the canon that we have because their themes tend to traverse past centuries. Just because one does not find Catcher in the Rye (italics) not entertaining, does not mean we should not read it. If all we did was what we thought was fun, then we would be missing out on a learning experience. I think a person can learn a lot about a work that they do not like. Maybe if they are studying to be a writer, they will look at what not to do. At least that is what I do. However, I agree with you, J.R., that the canon should include some present day works, but I think that will only happen when they become the past.

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