A post-colonial canonical and cultural revision of Conan Doyle's Holmes narratives

Satisfactory Essays
A post-colonial canonical and cultural revision of Conan Doyle's Holmes narratives

Redefining the British literary canon as imperial construct and influence

'A canon,' Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffiin argue, 'is not a body of texts per se, but rather a set of reading practices....' (189). They define 'reading practices' as 'the enactment of innumerable individual and community assumptions, for example about genre, about literature, and even about writing....' (189). The purpose of the following discussion is to investigate the link between the British literary canon and its attendant culture. That culture, Said argues, was one which imperial and colonial ideology had infiltrated. "Imperialism", in this discussion, will be defined in Said's words as 'the practice, the theory, and the attitudes of a dominating metropolitan centre ruling a distant territory....'(Culture 8). "Colonialism", likewise, will be noted as representing 'the implanting of settlements on distant territory....'(Culture 8). Increased imperialism and colonialism between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries resulted in the creation of a 'socially desirable, empowered space in metropolitan England....[which was] connected by design, motive and development to distant or peripheral worlds....conceived of as desirable but subordinate....' (Culture 61). England viewed itself as the powerful economic, academic and military centre of its empire: the colonised native was reduced by 'the authority of the [Western] observer, and of European geographical centrality' to occupy 'a secondary racial, cultural, ontological status....' (Culture 70). The oppression of the native cultures of the colonized territories maintained the fantasy of the centrality and superiority of British culture.

Said's argument, when combined with Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin's canon moulded by 'reading practices' which include 'community assumptions' (189), suggests that the bias toward priviliging its own imperial and colonial status in Britsh culture would logically lead that culture to accept texts which affirmed its imperial centrality and primacy. Said affirms this when he argues that the culture of imperial Britain encouraged 'canonical inclusion and exclusion....' (Culture 70).

The first stage of questioning the canon and canonical texts as constructs of imperial ideology entails identifying 'unspoken subjects [i.e. marginalised, distorted representations of colonised cultures and individuals]' in texts accepted by their contemporary British culture. Said argues that the critical reappraisal of such texts 'entails reading the canon as a polyphonic accompaniment to the expansion of Europe, giving a revised direction and valence to such writers as Conrad and Kipling who have always been read as sports, not as writers whose manifestly imperialist subject matter has a long subterranean or implicit and proleptic life' in the works of preceeding generations of writers (Culture 71).
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