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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Working Dream of the Imagined Canon

I was in a large meeting of some kind, around a large seminar table. I asked a colleague (whose identity does not matter here to you, but in the dream she was supposed to be "good at math") to solve a mathematical problem: assume 400 canonical novels in English. Now assume that the average English professor knows, really well, 40 of these. What is the chance that a randomly selected English prof. knows any given novel on this list? We have to assume that the novels are equally canonical, and that the English prof's knowledge is randomly distributed. In other words, sh/e is not more likely to know one novel more than another.

The math problem is rather simple, though it didn't appear quite so transparent in my dream, where I was improvising the word problem. 10%. When I woke up I assumed the point of this is that the canon is imaginary, like Benedict Anderson's imagined communities. I think that the nation is imagined as a "community" because I don't personally know more than a tiny percentage of all USU-ians.

The obvious flaw in my dream-logic is that all works are not equally canonical: the most canonical works would be those that the most English professors knew, almost tautologically speaking. Even so, we don't possess the entire canon at one time. I have read the Quijote four times, but not within the past 10 years.

It is curious that I have these working dreams. There is no escape from my own thoughts.

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