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Trevor Ross

The literary canon, theorists contend, is a selection of reputable works that abstracts their value for specific purposes: to safeguard them from neglect or censure, reproduce social and institutional values, maintain them as exemplary in the formation of personal or communal identities, or objectify and enshrine standards of judgment. The value of canonical works is not felt reducible to these uses or the interests that canon-making may serve, but canonization is nonetheless thought to be a recognition of their value, even confirmation that this value has been sufficiently established, by consensus or institutional edict, that it no longer requires demonstration. The discourse of canonicity thus relies on an economy of belief about the possibility and validity of agreement about literary value. Within this economy, the canon, in whichever composition, is both the evidence and the outcome of agreement, without which value would seemingly become entirely speculative. At the same time, canonicity is also a form of attention paid to valuable works, and it is not the only such form. Canonical works are treated differently than are other valuable works, and the value of the same work may be described in a different rhetoric of valuation depending on what kind of valuable work it is perceived to be. A work may be treated as a reference point, a familiar and influential text whose contribution to culture is measured relative to one context. It may be viewed as a classic, a singular and standard work whose value is perceived across a distance of time or culture. Or it may be esteemed as a canonical text, whose vital and indefinable contribution is not seen as relative to any particular time or place. The discourse of canonicity thus serves to generate belief in the possibility of suspending, however provisionally, speculation and contingency.


Michael Toolan

Literary stylistics is a practice of analyzing the language of literature using linguistic concepts and categories, with the goal of explaining how literary meanings are created by specific language choices and patterning, the linguistic foregrounding, in the text. While stylistics has periodically claimed to be objective, replicable, inspectable, falsifiable and rigorous, and thus quasi-scientific, subjective interpretation is an ineradicable element of such textual analysis. Nevertheless, the best stylistic analyses, which productively demonstrate direct relations between prominent linguistic forms and patterns in a text and the meanings or effects readers experience, are explicit in their procedures and argumentation, systematic, and testable by independent researchers. Stylistics is an interdiscipline situated between literary studies and linguistics, and from time to time has been shunned by both, who for decades predicted its decline if not disappearance. The opposite has happened; stylistics is flourishing, and some of its proponents argue that it offers more authentic and relevant literary studies than much of what goes on in university literature departments. Equally, some stylisticians see their work as a more coherent linguistics, adapted to a particular purpose, than much of the abstract linguistics pursued by academic linguists. In recent years, stylistics has been reanimated by adoption and adaptation of ideas sourced in cognitive linguistics and by the increasingly easy creation of huge corpora of languages in digital, machine-searchable form; these two developments have given rise to various forms of cognitive stylistics and corpus stylistics. In the early decades of the 21st century, one of the most exciting strands of work in stylistics is exploring kinds of iconicity in literary texts: passages of language that can be seen to enact or perform the effects or meanings the text is intent on conveying.