Canon? Practice? Commodity? The Past, Present and Future of the Literary Anthology
Whilst there has been much theorisation of the archive and the canon, for example in the work of Derrida, Foucault, and Guillory, the relationship of the anthology to these concepts still needs to be explored. Is the anthology a conceptual framework that defines its own truth criteria (Foucault 1972)? Is anthologising a hermeneutical tradition, carried out by those who have ‘the power to interpret the archives’ (Derrida 1995:10)? Are all anthologies ‘judgements with canonical force’ circumscribed by an institutional location (Guillory 1993: 29)? Or are the ‘so-called canon wars of the 1980s and 1990s’ a thing of the past (Baym 2012: xxvii)?
As well as probing what these ideas can tell us about the anthology, and vice versa, we also need to consider new approaches. At a time when there is increasing pressure on the Humanities to account for itself, this conference seeks to intervene in the broader discourse of literary studies. If anthologising is an activity which defines and validates the categories that are the object of the humanist gaze, can and/or should it be viewed as an act of composition, an instructive exemplar of the processes Latour outlines as common to the humanities and sciences (Latour 2010)? Along these lines, can the anthology be read as an example of curation, of the kind Felski recommends as a primary activity for the humanities today (Felski 2014)?
The anthology is still very much a live issue on the broader cultural scene, reflected in recent political debates about representation and inclusion, not least the boycott prompted by the exclusion of women writers from the 2017 Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets and the furore over Helen Vendler’s critique of the ‘Multicultural inclusiveness’ of Rita Dove’s 2011 Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. This renewed attention to anthologising speaks of the urgent need for a more thoroughgoing reflection, the stakes of which are being increasingly raised in the context of ever more global methods of distribution.