The Anti-Canon

I will be honest: at this point, my digital start-up project is rough around the edges. Ideas came to me easily, but deciding how these ideas could be truly innovative, or innovative at all, was a whole different story. Over the past few weeks, this has caused me a great deal of brain-ache. Basically, I have found myself gripping my lunch tray in the academic cafeteria, staring longingly at the DHers table. When it comes to even pretending to be in the Digital Humanities, I don’t fit in. I am still trying, though, and I will share with you what I am working on.

My plan for my project is to create an Anti-Canon. It will be a continually updated database of alternative texts to those that comprise what we traditionally call the literary canon. The goal of this database will be to not only provide alternative texts to students and teachers of literature, but also to question the very idea of a solid, permanent canon. My hope is to provide plausible alternatives that also ask questions about our current or previously held notions of canonicity. This database will include fiction, poetry, drama, and digital texts. It will be a free website that also allows for the development of a community.

Right now, my plan is to use Harold Bloom’s canon as the anti-foundation of the database. I have two different options of how this might work, both of which I am only able to articulate poorly:

  1. The database would avoid the texts in Bloom’s canon. “Anti”-canonical texts would be selected based off of research done on popular texts used in literature classrooms, especially classrooms around the world. The database would include these texts, as well as information about them such as themes, criticism, etc. Using software, these texts would be read “distantly,” and the results of these readings would be included with the texts. In order to avoid this more empirical method, these readings would be juxtaposed with critical interpretations of the text as well.
  2. First, an analysis would be done of Bloom’s texts. Bloom believes that these texts possess an inherently magical, aesthetic quality. Using data mining software, researchers would identify textual commonalities among Bloom’s canonical works. The goal here would be to develop an algorithm that can be applied to other “anti”-canonical texts in order to prove that texts outside of the canon can still have this “magical” quality. The results of this process would be included with the text, and critical analyses done by other scholars would also be included.

Again, I am really wrestling with the logic and logistics of these ideas. In the end, I may end up somehow combining them, or developing something new entirely. These methods are critical, though, when it comes to meeting the requirements of the NEH.

In the beginning of the project’s work, the database will not be live. In its first phase, a team of software developers, coding experts, and scholars will build the initial database. Before the site goes live, this team will compile the initial Anti Canon of 100 texts. Once the site goes live, the canon will be continuously updated. Users can sign up to be members and receive updates, and with this membership they can also participate in a community that critiques, discusses, and extends the work done by the website’s builders. I would also like to think that community members would eventually have the potential to also become contributors.

Let me know what you think! I am excited about the possibility here, but feeling very nervous about rising to the occasion…which is kind of academia in a nutshell for me.

1 thought on “The Anti-Canon”

  1. Emily, this sounds really interesting! I suppose I was a bad English major, as I’ve read so little canon literature. What I like to read and write was more than likely considered “junk,” and it seems that attitude is only recently being challenged in a meaningful way. That said, an “Anti-Canon” is very appealing to me!

    As for how the actual project itself would work – I wish I had more to offer you than support. I, too, am struggling with the nuts and bolts of my project. I will keep thinking on it, though, and if anything comes up, I’ll happily share.

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