Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

canon critique: getting mother's body & bob dylan

calamityschild's picture

In Anne’s class notes for October 6th, she writes that “in Getting Mother's Body, Parks turns from Hawthorne to Faulkner as another white male forebear she can critique; she uses these intertexual dialogues in particular (says a critic) "to resurrect bodies, especially Black bodies, that have been commodified and exploited.” Now that I’ve finished GMB, I’ve taken up rereading As I Lay Dying so I can better grasp the intertextual relationship between the two. I see Parks’ canon critique (of AILD, through GMB) as a critical re-writing of Faulkner. With that in mind, I’m interested in exploring what writers can accomplish through canon critique. Why would someone be interested in a new take on an old story, accepted as a classic, accepted as a great work in the American literary tradition? For me, my initial response is that such a new take would be a way of exposing the shortcomings of the canon. In GMB, Parks brings in characters, identities, and roles that are either unrepresented in AILD or portrayed in a way that deserves revision. I see this especially in the case of Billy Beede/Dewey Dell, and I’ll say more when I get my thoughts in line, but I see this along the lines of each character’s ability to subvert patriarchy in their respective books. Dewey Dell’s fate in AILD is contingent on the whims of the men in her life. Billy Beede, on the other hand, is given more agency in GMB. She is more in control of her body and the general direction of her life. This is one instance where I see Parks’ critique of Faulkner through GMB. In GMB, she introduces and develops identities that have traditionally been absent in the canon. And I think this revision and surpassing of the canon is significant, by giving shape, giving voice to those who have been “disremembered and unaccounted for” (Morrison). 

I’m thinking about these things alongside recent news of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature (side note—I just want to add that Dylan isn’t the first person to win the Nobel as a lyricist, Tagore was. Also, Toni Morrison was the last American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature). I have some mixed feelings on Dylan’s win. On one hand, I think it’s a sign that the Nobel Prize is changing, I’m happy that his win is challenging ideas of literature, and I’m glad that an unconventional form of written expression has been recognized as legitimate and of great artistic value. On the other hand, I’m a bit unsure why the Nobel committee chose Dylan in particular. Either way, the boundaries of what is respectable and what is literature are being pushed. I think canon critique can do this work, too, by putting traditional forms of storytelling in conversation with a more inclusive update on the canon.