Arnold Krupat (1941–) from “The Concept of the Canon,” The Voice in the Margin (1989)

  • Lee Morrissey


The concept of a literary canon is generally understood in either of two ways, each very much opposed to the other. Let me state them in their most extreme form: on the one hand, the canon is conceived of as a body of texts having the authority of perennial classics. These texts, “the great books” (as at least one American college has institutionalized them in a course of instruction), are, as they always have been and always will be, nothing less than the very best that has been thought and said. To understand their content—to have isolated for further meditation their themes or ideas—is to gain or make some nearer approach to timeless wisdom; to apprehend their form is to experience the beautiful or at the least to perceive a significant order. Sympathetic contact with these texts cannot help but make one a better person, or—the phrase is a curious one on inspection, to be sure—more human.


Great Book American Literature Common Culture World Hypothesis Canonical Text 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. “Gender, Race, Class, Canon.” Salmagundi 72 (1986): 131–43.Google Scholar
  2. Ong, Walter J., S.J. Interfaces ofthe Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.Google Scholar
  3. Said, Edward. The World, the Text, and the Critic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Lee Morrissey 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lee Morrissey

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations