Monday, February 9, 2009

Barring all pretension...

The question of canonicity as it relates to Wabash is multi-dimensional. The question of what qualifies a work as “great” and worthy of joining the coveted and highly esteemed Great Books List, is separate from the secondary question of which of these supposed great texts should be included in upper level senior Colloquium curriculum. Neither of these questions provides straightforward answers.
The first question should be assessed through blind eyes. Never in the equation should enter race, gender, or any other social construct. The debate of great literature, I believe, should have nothing to do with authorship. In the best sense of things, the fact that the majority of canonized works are written by white males should be a mere coincidence (although whether or not this is the case is legitimately debatable).
A piece of literature is canon-quality if it, well, is canon-quality, and if it reserves this mark over the test of time. If over time its applause fades and its quality turns debatable, its qualification for canonization should obviously be put in dire limbo. The test of time and hot debate among literary elite, a group in which I would include many Ph. D. professors at Wabash, ensures the integrity of the great works canon and keeps it from becoming painfully stagnant in changing times.
It’s a different conversation that surrounds the debate of what canonized works should be included in the senior Colloquium curriculum. This discussion should also have nothing to do with authorship, but rather with which canonized works are most worth the worn-out senior’s careful reading through and studying. By the time the spring semester of their senior year comes around, many students might agree that they have close-read enough random books and put up with enough random discussion through their previous seven semesters, that if their senior seminar proves no different, they, like the author of this Bachelor article, would not be very excited about it at all. However, it shows a remarkable lack of insight to think that this is all senior seminar amounts to and reflects a pretentious ignorance that is, in fact, enraging to many Colloquium professors.
I, too, might not like the thought of professors picking out for me the books that they think I should read, especially in my senior Great Works Colloquium, unless I have first learned the value in surrendering my childish arrogance. If I consistently believe that I have somehow attained the rare ability to pick through the annals of time and genres of all sorts and know the essence of a great work when I see one, and have the enlightened insight to know which of these texts are most worthy of my honored position as a pompous second-semester senior, something along my education track has gone terribly wrong.
Hopefully by the end of my college career I will have come to appreciate more fully the knowledge and insight of my Ph. D. professors. This is, at least, the hope.

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