An ethical approach to theory for the Globalized Age
For those of us taking part in The Canonicity Project, the issue of choosing the Western Canon is not just a problem of picking the most influential texts in the history of the West. Rather, picking the Canon is a critical moment that transcends the sphere of literary criticism and becomes a political action. With that transcendence, however, comes an ethical dilemma for some critics: how do you pick and choose which texts best fit the definition of the Canon while also propping up voices that should be heard and deserve to be heard, but have not made a significant impact on the Western tradition?
The answer, as it turns out is a deceptively simple one. Simply, critics must choose not to choose. Then, and only then, can they escape from the no exit situation of appeasing the Traditionalists and the liberal hawks that embody the critical collective.
The act of not choosing a Western Canon would be a decisive and powerful one. The decision would suggest, first and foremost, that it is impossible to assess the impact that any individual text has had on the subsequent history of the West. The decision would acknowledge that texts are simply that, texts. They are representations of the human experience and as such should not be placed in any hierarchal order. Instead, they could be contemplated and considered in regards to their literary and artistic merit.
Of course, the actual concepts of the West and the Western Tradition are problematic. Are the slaves that were brought across the Atlantic as part of the American slave trade a part of the Western Tradition? What about contemporary writers from the Middle East? What are the boundaries around the West? Surely, they are the same as those of the Roman Empire or the Ancient Greek world. Except, what about the Americas? What about China? Surely, these places are now integral parts of the Western world. Should their literatures be entirely included into the potential Canon?
As you can see, considering these concepts results in more questions than answers. That’s why rejecting the archaic concept of the Western Canon should be so appealing; rejecting the Western Canon is a simultaneous rejection of an outdated world view. Globalization has connected the far corners of the globe and introduced formally disconnected cultures to one another. The promise of Globalization is the loss of the fight between the local and the national in favor of the acceptance of the global. Globalization is supposed to be a humanizing process; it should equate and validate every person. Globalization promises to create a new culture that every human contributes to. Surely this culture should have a theory of literature that goes hand-in-hand with its political philosophy.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Globalization’s instigation is a humanizing ethics. Globalization is supposed to correct the ills of colonization and conquest. Globalization, you could say, is supposed to restore balance to the Force. The Globalized Theory of literature, the theory that says that the context of a text no longer matters and should not shape how a critic considers the text, is a major part of establishing this new ethical culture. Yet, if Globalization is allowed to be corrupted by unethical pursuits and interests, then it won’t matter how appropriate or ethical any theory of literature is. The world will simply continue to maintain the status quo.