Reconsiderations of a canon-less world

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

Screenhunter_01_aug_20_1057The idea of a “canon” is in tatters. A canon needs an established cultural authority, and there is no guiding authority in culture anymore. There are no real gatekeepers. The barbarians aren’t merely at the gates — they long ago passed through the gates and are comfortably strolling around town. They are ordering lattes at the museum café right now. More honestly, perhaps, it should be said that we’re all barbarians. We are them and they are us. This is a terribly bothersome situation to some people, usually to the very people who still think they can show a difference between themselves and the barbarians. They don’t want to be barbarians. The most succinct response to such people is: tough shit. The task at hand is to deal with the world as it actually is, not as you wish it were.

Once you stop complaining and start getting back to work, it becomes clear that the barbarianization of all things affords some interesting opportunities. There are benefits to having a canon, of course. For one, you’ve got standards by which to measure yourself and others. But one of the most troubling things about a canon is the way it becomes unquestionable. You’re never able to ask the canon “Why?” It is the standard by which one asks why. This is meant to prevent infinite regress. If the standard can itself be judged, then there must be a more primary standard, and so on, ad infinitum. The canon stops all of that cold. It answers those disturbing questions before they can even be asked. You learn from the canon in order to understand what the rules are and then you go out and apply them. What you cannot do is turn back and start asking questions about the canon itself. A canon doesn’t work that way.

More here.