As Chaucer said, more or less, there is nothing new that is not old.
We had a canon discussion this week. Yes, that canon.
Some people felt that our students don't read enough canonical works, especially by 20th century USian authors. They meant (in this discussion) that our students aren't reading enough Eliot, Hemingway, Fitzgerald.
And the argument wasn't coming only from where you might expect, either.
But the argument was coming from a sense that there's this unchanging marker of "real" and "value" in literature, and it's centered (in the US, anyway), on a bunch of men writing mostly between the wars (those wars being WWI and II, not Iraq I and II).
Amusingly enough, from the point of view of someone who loves dead white guys, one of those white guys was part of a movement that drastically changed the canon. Yes, there was a time when Donne and the other metaphysicals weren't the center of the poetry canon. And then people such as Eliot made Donne and the gang vitally important, and they were. And now it's hard to think of not reading Donne in any 17th century British context.
On the other hand, it's easy to think of not reading Hooker or Andrews; and Shirley, Beaumont, and Fletcher aren't nearly as important as Marlowe and Jonson these days, though they once were.
I have a feeling that in the next 50 years, there's going to be a fair bit of reshuffling of the canon, and the WWI-WWII folks are going to feel way less important and take up less room in anthologies.
We need to think of the canon as something under revision. That's scary, of course, because we all spent a load of time learning our field, and the canon in our field, and we don't want that ground unstable. And it's pretty easy to say that as a Shakespeare person, because I'm guessing he's not dropping out any time soon. But the people who spent a lot of time reading Dreiser may feel that their time could have been spent doing something else. (Or is it only me who feels that way about Dreiser?)
And also, how is it that the canon doesn't now include Morrison, Hurston, and Hong Kingston?
We, people who teach English literature, contribute to making the canon through our teaching and research choices, as do editors and publishers (especially of anthologies), testing folks (the folks who test for high school teaching licenses, especially), school boards, and yes, readers. Of these, there's no reason we who teach in colleges (and who get to develop curricula and make teaching choices) need to be a conservative force in this array.
I'm pretty much on the fringe of the USian canon discussion here, but I have to say, it's amusing to watch the US scholars get on about how we need to teach the canon and know that we don't teach Beowulf, Pope, Dryden, or a bunch of other folks central to a certain British canon much at all.
In amongst this discussion was a colleague of mine who's been spending a fair bit of time over in the administrative fort and has picked up this habit that annoys the dickens out of me. (Get that, dickens? Hah!) Subject X gets mentioned, and zie says, "I'd be happy to engage in a dialogue about X in the future," and goes on. Seriously? You're willing to engage in a dialogue? You and who else? Can there only be two voices? And you get to generously decide what we get to talk about?
I feel defeated this semester, and the semester hasn't begun. I got assigned to a committee (one I can't decline for very good reasons) and zie is also on this committee.