So, I’m trying out something new. This is perfectly silly and supposed to be fun. Serious and/or whiny people, please go away (for the time being). I owe Tom and Lorenzo from Project Rungay for the idea. They have this contest/game-type thing called Virgins versus Vixens, in which a classic Hollywood starlet is pitted against another classic Hollywood starlet, except one has a ‘virgin’ image and the other a ‘vixen.’
I want to do a literary version of that with dead white male canonical writers. (We can try dead white female writers, suicidal poets, dead Beats and Dan Browns later, I promise.)
Why dead white male? Because it’s a list long enough for this to go on for a while. And really, these guys get it so easy, faffing around in syllabi across the world. Let’s make them work a little for their fame.
(All complaints about how this is perpetuating the canon, juvenile, evil, etc, will be treated with disdain. Unless you want to write me a really nice email. : D )
The purpose of the game
is to determine the dead white male among all dead white males in the literary canon — a writer of such virtuosity, universal appeal and general importance to our collective writing and intelligence, and all significant life decisions, that he deserves the title of Canon King, voted through a mostly dubious democratic process.
Here we go!
Our first battle –
Both are modernist giants. Both names are uttered today with a mixture of awe and revulsion. Both published revolutionary works in the year 1922. Eliot‘s The Wasteland — a masterpiece of allusion and disillusion — continues to be read by literature students and aspiring poets (often one and the same), although not as thoroughly as the copious footnotes that accompany the text. Joyce‘s Ulysses — where does one begin — has allowed us to value incomprehensibility over, well, comprehensibility, and has lead to all kinds of experiments with the poor, unassuming sentence — so far left alone to its own devices while the world poked and prodded at the poetic line and stanza.
Of course, neither Eliot nor Joyce were known solely for these works. Eliot exploded on the scene with The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock in 1910, thereby heralding, some would say, the beginning of modernism. Besides his contributions to theatre, poetry, criticism and publishing (with Faber & Faber), Eliot has bestowed us with the delightful catch phrase ‘April is the cruellest month’ for (Inter-)National Poetry Month and inspired the even more delightful musical Cats.
Joyce, on the other hand, is a lesson to all fiction MFA students: don’t break the rules until you’ve followed them. ‘Remember Joyce!’ says the professor quivering at the thought of having to read twenty mangled — sorry, stream-of-consciousness — short stories of unfortunate length and ambition. ‘Remember Dubliners! You’re not ready to write a Finnegan’s Wake! By god, I hope you’re not!’
It may be argued that with only eight books published during his lifetime, Joyce has been less influential than Eliot, that he was less of a writer for being so spare with his contributions to our exploding canon. On the other hand, Eliot was a poet. He was also, apparently, an anti-Semite, a misogynist and a devout Christian.
Battle away/How to vote
Leave your vote in a comment at this blog post, or if you want to be anonymous, send it to me in an email (aditimachado (at) yahoo (dot) co (dot) in)
Feel free to defend your heroes or slur the opponent. Really, feel free.
Voting ends a week from now (midnight GMT, December 25, 2009 — that’s Christmas!).
I shall not be voting.
If this catches on, the winner of Canon Wars: Part 1 shall face a new opponent and so on and so forth. I want to give it a year. (Oh, also, send me names of dead white guys, in an email preferably? I get the feeling I might run out.) (And does anyone want to donate any artwork?)