Science Fiction Repair Shop: Canonade Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2015-01-06 15:00:00 No comments

CONSUMER NOTE! I wrote this post while feverish, so I'm even crankier than usual.

Also, INJURY WARNING! Do not read this linked piece unless you want to sprain your eyes rolling them.

What We Lose if We Lose the Canon - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

those writers who feel the pressure of precursors and who successfully take poetry or prose in new directions deserve consideration beyond what we normally extend to writers who produce satisfactory work in various genres. Just because there is no objective list of Great Books does not mean there are no great books. I’m not suggesting that one can’t fully enjoy James Crumley, James Lee Burke, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and Orson Scott Card, but I’m not sure one can love them in the way that one loves Shakespeare, Keats, Chekhov, and Joyce. One can be a fan of Agatha Christie, but one can’t really be a fan of George Eliot.

It's rare I see someone swing so freely between lucid insight and dunderheaded foot-in-mouth-ism in the same paragraph, possibly even the same sentence. Heinlein and Dick (jury's out on Card, if you ask me) can be described as many things, but alluding that they merely produced nothing more than "satisfactory work in various genres" is to either be honestly ignorant of what kind of work they did and why, or to be studiously, snootily ignorant of it.

Sigh. Just when I thought we'd gotten past this kind of mingy provincialism, it rears its head again, and in the silliest contexts. The whole point of the article was that a canon should be a conversation, one populated by voices that span the spectrum of literary experience. If the whole reason to make such a statement is just to draw a line in the sand and then kick some of said sand in the faces of those unlucky enough to be on the wrong side of it, why bother? SF has a right to be here just as much as anything else does, proving its worth on a case-by-case basis — the same way, oh, all of Herman Meville only became canonized because his defenders fought (albeit posthumously) to have Melville recognized as a literary giant. I would no sooner go without Dick than without Melville — in fact, I might well give up Melville first, since it's Dick that spoke more directly to me in my time.

And as for that parting shot — well, let's just say the author has a very different idea of what a "fan" is than many of the self-professed fans I know do. It takes a lot of nerve — and of a very highly developed kind, I think — to tell people what such things are, aren't, or can and can't be.

Look, I get it, believe me. I've got room on my shelf aplenty for Dostoevsky and Dick, for Shakespeare and Simenon. The canon's just as important to me as it is to anyone making a living professing about it. What's not cool is pretending only certain select elites have the right to engage in a conversation with it, for reasons that have as much to do with the politics of the canon as any merits the works themselves possess. The least we can do is kid ourselves a little less about this!

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop canon literature science fiction