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On Contemporary American Literature and Subversions of the Canon

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  1. Introduction: Race and canon subversion
  2. The phallic pun in 'canon defense'
  3. The link between phallus building and empire building
  4. Sherman Alexie's The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
  5. American beats
  6. Conclusion

Toni Morrison's claim that ?Canon debate . . . is the clash of cultures? rings true to me. This statement can be looked at in a few ways. One can look at it and say that Morrison is referring to a hypothetical debate between cultures on what works should be included in a canon. However this can also be read, to use a theme inherent in ?Unspeakable Things Unspoken,? as a debate that takes place in only one culture?the majority?about one culture's works, effectively excluding voices from other cultures. So canon debate, whether all cultures are actually involved in the debate or not, is always a clash of cultures.

[...] In an interesting passage in Alexie's story ?Imagining the Reservation,? the narrator contrasts actual physical conflict/battle with language assimilation and ?canon building.? The narrator is musing, notably, on the Fourth of July: ?it's the same old story, whispered past the same false teeth. How can we imagine a new language when the language of the enemy keeps our dismembered tongues tied to his belt? How can we imagine a new alphabet when the old jumps off billboards down into our stomachs?? (152). [...]


[...] American Beats Eliot's question of ?what is American? literature can be directed at both American literature form and the changing themes of American literature. I'm thinking of Ginsberg's Howl because it seems to upset both American theme (for the most part) and form. The theme, like Kerouac's On the Road, both is and is not a typical American story of the West and Westering. Howl is more about experiencing the American West (like On the Road) and experiencing the Dream of the West than actually living the American West dream and settling West. [...]

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