Jorpho wrote:Probably, but I'd like to know more about this.
Why didn't you say so? I'll do my best to explain, but I'm no expert.
Jorpho wrote:You suggest that a "classic" work is something about which someone can compose a very good argument.
I don't think I do, I think you're reducing what I'm saying. Nowhere in my post does it suggest that if someone made a really good argument about why Harry Potter is garbage and couldn't be further away from the canon, then it would become classic. But since I was confusing, I'll start again from the beginning. What is a classic? Let's give it the practical definition of "a literary work in the canon." Of course the word also contains ideas about value over time, but that does change the fact that classics are works in the canon and vice versa. When we ask how (not why) a work becomes a classic, then, we are asking about canon formation. A work becomes canonical in two ways (I'm sorry I don't have a citation--this is something I learned in a theory course): people choose to do criticism on it (very often this is a large number of people over a long period of time) and it is taught in literature classes (same stipulation as the first way). Do not take this to be a sweeping generalization--there's a course here next semester teaching The Hobbit
and I can find criticism of Harry Potter in our local bookshop, but neither of these works are canonical. This is a long process by which a work gradually becomes accepted as worth studying. And now I've snuck in a value judgment with the word "worth," and this leads me to my next point: choosing to do criticism on a work and choosing to teach it are effectively value judgments. What the professor is saying is, "I find this work more valuable
for study than some other work." I warn again against a sweeping generalization, as some classes teach non-canonical works because they're easier or because the students will like them more or for any number of other reasons. But this is the general outline of how canon formation works.
I brought up the Eliot example as an anomaly, an example of how one critic changed the canon by showing that a group of poets who couldn't be appreciated by the standards of their day are worth studying by the standards of our own. I'm not suggesting that this happens very often. Not to mention the fact that Eliot is considered one of the best literary critics there ever were--it wasn't like some grad student thought that Dune
should be in the canon so he wrote a paper on it.
Well first of all volumes upon volumes of literary criticism are released year after year which are marketed only to people with English degrees, and they sell just fine.
Do they, now? I doubt it's an especially profitable venture.
Not like producing Transformers was a profitable venture, but something tells me that you've never been in the criticism section of your local bookstore before.
He did probably write it with the hope of getting paid for it, though.
Joyce, maybe. The man was poor, give him a break. Luckily he knew that there was an established audience of modern intellectuals that would receive it (which also answers your question about his wife's quote--he was interested in writing a masterpiece in the modernist style of his time). Nabokov, on the other hand, once said (he may have been quoting Pushkin), "I write for pleasure, but I publish for money." Honestly, if these two only wanted money, they could have written things that would appeal to a much wider audience. Instead they wrote masterpieces that have filtered down to the masses in part because of controversy but mainly because they have been judged as such by experts.
Hell, Tolkien (to pick a non-canonical author) didn't write The Lord of the Rings to appeal to anybody but himself.
And if it appealed to no one but himself, no one would know of it today, regardless of how an "expert" might dote upon it when it was discovered.
But that's irrelevant. The point I was trying to make is that people do
sometimes (often) write for relatively small audiences, and in the case of great writers these audiences are often the intellectual elite. Avant-garde was never meant to be popular with the masses and it never really has been (even though almost everyone knows of it). Likewise, although almost everyone knows of Ulysses
, it has never really appealed to a mass, non-intellectual audience. So when you call avant-garde or Ulysses
or any classic overrated
, the word is meaningless if you never got why it was rated in the first place. Now I've brought myself full circle.