Academic journal article German Quarterly

From the Editor: Forum on Defining and Teaching the Canon in German Studies

Academic journal article German Quarterly

From the Editor: Forum on Defining and Teaching the Canon in German Studies

Article excerpt

The word canon contains many levels of complexity. Originally of course, it is biblically fixed: the sacred texts that "found" the Judeo-Christian civilization. But, in a totally different context - so different that we don't use the term this way - all teachers have to generate a "canon" for every literature course they teach. They have to include certain texts and feel free to exclude others; but as they make their lists, they shape their selection into a "cohesive structure," a quasi-canonical set of readings that must be made meaningful per se to their students. And in between these seemingly remote extremes, the term has so many historical dimensions. Each of our modern European literatures has a core canonical author: Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Racine, Pushkin - and of course Goethe. All subsequent creative writers have to engage with these founding fathers; if they seem to ignore them in their own production, such a strategy usually expresses its own model of resistance. And then, of course, the literary tradition accumulates its own canonical frameworks, each one "normative" for a while, but none vanishing altogether.

This historical self-consciousness is particularly true of the German tradition; in this forum we offer two reflections on major writers embedded in these canonical dimensions. …

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