2011 International Conference on Languages, Literature and Linguistics IPEDR vol.26 (2011) © (2011) IACSIT Press, Singapore
Exploring the Post-Colonial Literary Canon
Sandhya Rao Mehta
Sultan Qaboos University, Oman
Abstract. This paper addresses some the most prominent problematics of working with an established literary canon, including the extent to which, when implemented in universities worldwide, it represents the emerging concerns of diverse communities across the world. The main argument extended in this discussion is that, while the western-centred literary canon is being increasingly replaced by other works of international repute, they are themselves in danger of becoming a canon, bringing with them similar issues of privilege and power. Having defined the canon, the paper goes on to illustrate the way the post-colonial canon began to be established and then explores its inherent dangers and limitations. Suggestions of an alternative ‘counter canon’ are offered as possible ways to address increasingly urgent concerns in a flat world. The question of whether a literary canon can ever be established as an academic fixity is posed at the end of the discussion. Keywords: Post-Colonial literary canon, counter canon, meta-narratives, world literature, emerging literatures
As the narrative of post-colonial discourse has shifted to more contemporary notions of globalization with its attendant concerns with hybridity, multiple identities and non-belonging, its manifestations in the literary canon are yet to be explored. While the battle for the establishment of ‘other voices’ characterized much of post-colonial literary studies towards the end of the last millennium, it has largely resulted in departments of humanities across the world attempting to integrate the voices from various corners of the world in order to more equitably represent the changing geo-political concerns of the twenty-first century. In literary circles, this manifested itself in the creation of a post-colonial canon which acted upon the limitations of the hitherto established English canon being taught in universities worldwide. Post-modern societies’ study of multiple silences such as those of women, aboriginals, colonized communities as well as gay and queer groups necessitated the creation of a literary canon which would fill the gaps with representation given to these marginalized groups. This was most significantly illustrated in the productions of such established texts as The Norton Anthology of Women Writers (1984) and the multiple volumes The Norton Anthology of World Literature (1995) both of which attempted to offer an alternative canon of literary studies. These anthologies, while succeeding to address the issue of hitherto silenced communities, is not without its limitations in terms of the politics of canon formation.
Problematics in the Emerging Canon
It has been increasingly seen that, in the process of creating a post-colonial canon, the inherent dangers of creating an alternate list of ‘greats’ is always around the corner, with evermore increasing lists of works vying to be part of it. Thus, while the academic world has, by and large, succeeded in addressing the major lapses in the way literature is studied in different parts of the world, it is not, in the alternative offered, devoid of problematics of inclusion. In a very real sense, the canon itself is in danger of becoming ‘cosmopolitan’ (Wilson et al. 4). This study is an attempt to sketch the history of canon formation and examine the way in which the post-colonial canon emerges as being, itself, inadequate to right the wrongs of the literary enterprise. Having explored the conceptual possibilities of the canon itself, this study will explore the limitations of the canon as it presently stands, etching out some of the issues that remain 304
controversial and in need of address. It will also attempt to suggest ways in which the...
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