In the wake on Postmodernist critique of modernism and liberal humanism, and with the vogue of Derridean deconstruction and decentering of the subject/centre, the Western canon of “great” books, not only in literature but in all areas of humanistic study, has been viewed as determined less by artistic excellence than by the politics of power.

In other words, the canon is now regarded as having formed in accordance with the ideology, political interests, and values of an elite class that is white, male and European. As a result, it is claimed that the canon consists mainly of works that convey and sustain racism, patriarchy and imperialism and serves to marginalise or exclude the interests and accomplishments of the Afro-American, Native American, Dalit, Hispanic and other ethnic minorities, and also the achievements of women, the working class, popular culture, homosexuals, and other non-European civilizations.

Literary movements like Feminism, Postcolonialism, Marxism have sought to expand the canon so as to make it multicultural instead of Eurocentric and patriarchal and to make it represent adequately the concerns and writings of women and of ethnic, non-heterosexual, and other groups. Another demand is that the standard canon be stripped of its elitism and hierarchism in order to include such cultural products as films, television serials, popular songs, fiction written for a mass audience and so on.

Certain radical wings of revisionist theorists also demand the abolition of the standard canon and its replacement by marginal and excluded groups and texts. Recently, following the debates on the formulation of inclusivistic syllabi, several universities have decanonised their syllabi, in order to include the voices from the hitherto voiceless sections of society.

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  1. Literature throughout the ages has been used to fight for human rights. You speak as if all canon books can only be put into one general category (read: evil), all the while excluding canon writers like Proust who are homosexuals themselves, or Woolf and even the Brontë sisters who fought for feminism when nobody else would. Many classics have also touched upon the subject of racism and sparked a conversation like To Kill A Mockingbird. And do you know why they are mostly Euro-centric? Because we are talking about English Literature, and now that we are starting to get more and more English translations of literary works from around the globe, we are starting to recognize great literature from Japan for example, and Latin American authors have also begun to gain more recognition because of this translation. It is not a systemic problem, it is a language barrier which used to be so strong back in the days, and have now been weakened by internet culture and globalization.
    So to speak that canons as they stand now are problematic is to refuse to acknowledge all the great things that so many authors have accomplished and paved the way for those very social issues to be talked about today.

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