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RUSU VERONICA IOANA EN FR, IIIRD YEAR

CANON AND ITS CHANGES


History is generally based on the things that a nation has managed to keep unaltered and those that it has lost with the passing of years. And the lost things are considered to be the ones that are of no importance for the development of that particular nation and therefore their loss does not affect the ongoing of history. But this is not only applicable to history. It appears even in the area of literature and there it is called Canon. Consequently, Canon represents the authority that classifies the literary work from a certain period according to their importance and value, thus giving birth to a hierarchy of works. This hierarchy is only made of those works that are considered to be worth keeping alive and brought forward as examples and source of inspiration for the newer forms of literature. This form of hierarchy is in a continuous state of modification because with every new age, literary period or year, there might be more titles to add to the list or some might need to be withdrawn if they start being regarded as obsolete. The change of canon is therefore caused by the continuous change in the readers perception of or expectations from a literary work. The main reason for the change of the way in which a text is perceived by its readers is the simple fact that from the first existing texts, authors have tried to satisfy the literary needs of their readers. Since society is a living organism and since people depend on this organism and they are obliged to adapt to its conditions in order to survive. The most important change that took place in what the English literary canon is concerned is the change of perspective. Both the perspective of the characters towards the action and the authorial perspective upon the text changes from one work to the other throughout the years. In the novels that have been written since the XVIIIth up to the Modernist period the readers can discover different perspectives such as: the omniscient narrator, the first person narrator and the third person narrator. Brian McHales text Constructing Postmodernism from 1992 reveals the importance of a second person narrative by saying that the pronoun You

implies in itself an act of communication and it includes both you and I which cannot function one without the other. In order to embody the shifts of perspective mentioned above we can refer to more than one text taking them in a chronological order and we can try to see if the enthusiasm with which that particular piece of work was written matches the enthusiasm with which we read the text now. Unfortunately we shall see that the readers can no longer read a text the same way it was read by its first public and this is because we are not able to understand all the historical or social references that the text makes voluntarily or not. Consequently this asks for the disappearance of Literature as promoted by the Canon and for the introduction of Culture which is meant to recreate the cultural background of the novel so that the reader could have access to the hidden meanings of the text more easily. Let us take for example a text that was published in the fist half of the XVIII th century and depicts a very interesting story. It is Jonathan Swifts masterpiece Gullivers Travels. In this literary work the narrator is also the main character and therefore the work was written from a first person point of view with some shifts here and there to the third person narrative used by the narrator when describing a new country or its inhabitants. As a literary work pertaining to the XVIIIth century the reader can have just a few interpretations on the text, even though the subject developed by Swift is not one that used to be very common during those days. This limitation of the interpretations of the reader is a perfect proof that the change is imminent but that it does not have yet the necessary strength to focus more on the way the text it is received than on its contents. As we move forward in time, we get to a new point in the History of the English Literature: the literature of the Victorian age. Especially in the works of the first Victorian novelists such as Charles Dickens and William Makepeace Thackeray. The latter is very famous for his work entitled Vanity Fair, a novel in which the perspective chosen by the author is that of an omniscient narrator that has a birds eye view upon the world. In this novel, the narrator is omnipresent but he never interferes with the development of the plot, he is there just as a witness to all the actions of the characters. From the given excerpt it is clear that the narrator is situated somewhere outside the course of action and he can see everything, not just the things that go on and make up the plot of the novel but also the actions of the author: the whole accompanied by appropriate scenery and brilliantly illuminated with the Authors own candles. 2

As we enter the twentieth century, the novels tend to be more and more complex and a bit more difficult to follow. It is during this period that we can say that there is a plurality of voices narrating the same story and the reader has to pay attention and observe when he is reading one authorial voices point of view and when there is a character or a detached narrator telling the story. In order for us to better understand this, the text we can refer to is Joseph Conrads Lord Jim in which there is a very obvious shift of perspective. While the first four chapters are narrated by an unknown voice which we, the readers, might interpret as being the voice of Conrad himself, the following parts will be retold by one of the characters, Mr Marlow. The story that this character introduces us to, is not his own story, it is just something he was told and which drew his attention to its main character. Now, in the beginning of the XX th century, the tendency of the authors is that of creating characters that are in fact common people in order for the readers to have the impression that maybe someday their lives could represent the subject for a plot. This aspect regarding the main character, that he is just like any of us is depicted and insisted upon throughout the novel in Marlows words: He is one of us. This simple sentence may be interpreted either as an excuse for Jims mistakes or a praise of his courage namely that even though he is one of us he did not give up on the promise he made to Doramin. Aldous Huxleys novel Point Counter Point proves that Modernism and Modernist writings are taking over in the literary society. The main feature of this novel being, as the title clearly shows it, the use of opposing elements, ideas, symbols and placing them so close to one another that they have the tendency to annihilate one anothers meaning: The absoluteness of perfect relativity. Another example of contradictory elements is The only things that concern us are the little relative gods and evils[...]Everything else is non-human . It appears in the excerpt that what the narrator is looking for is balance and it seems that the best way for obtaining it is by opposing elements with the same value. The fifth novel under discussion was written by Salman Rushdie and it is called The Groung Beneath her Feet. Just the simple fact of being written by Rushdie makes it a controversial literary work but if one gets down to it and starts reading at least the excerpt given that person would easily notice that it continues Huxleys expression of contradictions as a condition for obtaining balance: The extremist is a moderate.. Rushdies text gives the impression of a mass of personal opinion about the surrounding life that people might have, opinions that after a while denied and rejected as if they had never existed: Genocide occurs; 3

no, it doesnt. Through all these antithetic ideas and forms of expression, Rushdies text is very close to Postmodernist writings, the ones that reinterpret everything and that are very conscious of the ways of writing a novel and how the readers react to it. All these contradictions create a certain tension in the readers minds and souls and make them shift from one spiritual state to the other just like the narrator shifts from one perspective to the other. The final excerpt is the one that can be also used to sum up all that has been said about the shifting perspectives and the role that the author and the narrator play within the novel. The concluding passage is from Ian McEwans novel called Atonement and there are some sentences that explicitly express the role and use of a literary work: historical record, legal reality. In the end of this given excerpt the narrator clearly states the importance of the author who works as God in relation with his or her characters because their destinies lie entirely in his or her hands. And the only limits the author has are those of his or her own imagination so they are not imposed by exterior forces. To sum up, Brian McHales theory about the importance of the perspective in a literary work and in particular the use of the pronoun for the second person singular can be regarded as the next step in the change of canon as all the other possibilities have already been tried or used throughout the history of literature. The extensive use of the pronoun you would turn all forms of literature into imaginary acts of communication that might offer a better preview of the realities of the authors contemporaneity.