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Monday, December 3, 2012

More introduction

The hermeneutics developed by writers like Jorge Luis Borges, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and Harold Bloom provides a way of understanding the ongoing legacy of a hyper-canonical figure like Lorca, who presents interpretative problems of dizzying complexity. Because Lorca has been the object of endless translation, creative transformation, and commentary over the course of nine decades, his achievement calls out for an acute awareness of the historical vicissitudes of interpretation. An author is “hypercanonical,” in my definition, when he (or in rarer cases she) not only forms part of a standard canon or reading list, but comes to be regarded as quasi-sacred. Borges defines the classic text in the following terms:

Clásico es aquel libro que una nación o un grupo de naciones o el largo tiempo han decidido leer como si en sus páginas todo fuera deliberado, fatal, profundo como el cosmos y capaz de interpretaciones sin término. Previsiblemente, esas decisiones varían.

A classic is that book that a nation or group of nations or a long period of time has decided to read as though everything in its pages were deliberate, predestined, as profound as the cosmos and capable of endless interpretations. Predictably, these decisions will vary.

Borges, with his characteristic skepticism, does not view the canonical work as possessing intrinsic qualities that make it eligible for this treatment. The decision to regard a work as a classic is a contingent, variable, collective decision, taken over time.

Hypercanonical authors are typically subject to hyperbolic and hagiographic treatment. They are saints or martyrs, the inventors of languages, entire national literatures, genres, or grandiose generalities like “the human” itself. It goes without saying that such authors will normally form part of academic reading lists, and become the subject of critical industries, but their afterlife will never be exclusively, or even mainly, academic: they will live on in other artistic or literary works, in translations and adaptations, and in the popular imagination. Hyper-canonical authors live on not only in the classroom but in other creators of culture: Cervantes in Borges; Shakespeare in Lorca

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