On the Canon of Literature
The Agon(y) of Writing.
Art is perfectly useless, according to the sublime Oscar Wilde, who was right about everything. He also told us that all bad poetry is sincere.
Contemporary writers do not like being told they must compete with Shakespeare and Dante.
What Is the Canon?
When you read a canonical work for the first time you encounter a stranger, an uncanny startlement rather than a fulfillment of expectations.
Strangeness: canonical works have a mode of originality that either cannot be assimilated, or that so assimilates us that we cease to see it as strange.
On Breaking Into the Canon.
One breaks into the canon only by aesthetic strength, which is constituted primarily of an amalgam: mastery of figurative language, originality, cognitive power, knowledge, exuberance of diction.
A critic may have political responsibilities but the first obligation is to raise again the ancient and quite grim triple question of the agonist: more than, less than, equal to? Milton simply overwhelmed the tradition and subsumed it. That is the strongest test for canonicity.