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Title: My mother's handbag : questioning categorisation in English literary canonisation
Author: DeAnn Bell, K.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5916 9839
Awarding Body: Prifysgol Bangor University
Current Institution: Bangor University
Date of Award: 2015
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For too long the term “the canon” has been used to denote a static system of literary judgements that puts the power of canonical choices outside of the control of the everyday reader. Canonisation in reality is the change in textual composition and alignment for a population over successive generations that may be caused by natural selection, for example by textual preference manipulated by environment, by conscious hybridisation of texts, by textual mutation through the spontaneous expansion of writing by new authors and artists, and finally by the reproduction of successful texts and textual styles. A text can be added to the canonisation process, but that doesn’t mean that it will necessarily become part of canonical reading because canons depend on social validation. Superhero characterisation and superhero canonisation share with English literary canonisation the public opinion that better representation is needed in order to maintain social relevance, but in a society where multiple personal and professional identities can be created on the internet outside of physical identifiers, attaching identity to purely physical aspects of the self is quickly becoming outmoded. In recent debates about what should be included in current canons the push to diversify canonical reading to include more texts by marginalised authors is strong. As a writer, though, I am wary of having my writing classified or preferred on the foundations of my physical body. For marginalised writers, canonical representation based on physical identity creates boundaries that are limiting to writers, writing, and interpretations of writing. The associated political identities prescribed to the physical body are only one facet of a writer, and the political ideologies of these identity groups can be applied to writing in such a way that it limits the full scope and impact of the text. Identity labels which once opened canonisation to a range of new and exciting voices are now confining writers and writing to a series of identity based tick boxes where writing that falls between groups, or is counter to the political agenda of an identity group, is discarded in favour of unity. The call for representation in literature should not be about expanding political identity groups, or attempting to homogenise humanity with claims that we are all the same, but instead should be about developing multifaceted individual characters whose development is linked to the story they were created for. An outside reader coming into canonical debates faces challenges such as proprietary language, canonical suspicion and prejudices caused by a misunderstanding of how canons are formed, and the anxiety of undoing the progress that has already been accomplished by a multicultural approach to canonisation. Because of the complexity of these issues, debates about canonisation have broken down into populist arguments in academic journals where political identity groups argue with aesthetic canon supporters about what the public should read. I believe that the public should have an opportunity to take part in this debate. My collection is intended to subvert expectations brought on by the identity based category of Southern Women’s Writing and to underline the inherent flaws of basing a textual hierarchy and classification system on the physical body of the writer rather than on the textual content of the writing. My Mother’s Handbag uses superheroes as a mode of taking identity apart so that readers from outside English academia can contextualise canonical concerns such as gendered language, identity performance, gender essentialism, disability, and the flexibility of what it means for writing to be literary. By using popular genres such as science fiction and superheroes, this collection is meant to demystify canonisation and attract a wider range of readers to participate in the debates about what it means to be literature.
Supervisor: Gregson, Ian ; Skoulding, Zoe Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available