Where I Stand 07/03/16

On rereading Coetzee’s Foe I became aware that what I thought might be an attack on publishers was in fact an attack on the tropes and demands of the Canon (which is the complete idea i.e. re: Attridge ‘the developing bourgeois canon’).  Susan Barton says to her ‘ghost writer’ Foe (Daniel Defoe) that she wants only her tale told of her experiences on the island with Cruso. However Barton, as Attridge puts it, ‘becomes increasingly aware of its unsuitability for the established canon.’  Although Attridge suggests Coetzee is critiquing the canon he might as well have been critiquing modern publishers and their demands on the form and content of contemporary fiction.  We should remember no matter how powerful the demands on the form and content of literature have been within the canon it has also been been inclusive enough to accept the antithesis of those forms and it has been open to critique (at times).

This is quite simply not true of publishers’ attitude towards fiction today. Their hegemony over what might be included in the canon is far greater than ever.  Their insistence that the form and content of literature must conform to that which has been established and has a proven sales record is far more powerful today than it has ever been.  Publishers may pay lip service to ‘great new voices’ and ‘a voice from the margins’ but this is simply marketing talk.  With the accountants in charge of publishing houses today the future of literature is bleak and the published response to the established canon will simply be a matter of diminishing marginal returns.


I was looking out of the UEA library window out at the lake and park below.  I have been thinking about this quite a lot, that strange feeling of strangeness – all of a sudden I was almost surprised to find myself here, although I have been here since September.  For much of my reading life in South Africa I thought that in someway there would be a home for me in the English landscape and society.  But I don’t think I will ever get used to this place.  As Weil says that those who are exiled will always do themselves a violence by trying to assimilate.


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