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WRITING, AUCTORITAS AND CANON FORMATION IN SOR ISABEL DE VILLENA'S VITA CHRISTI Montserrat Piera Temple University One of the chief developments in Western European literary criticism in the past decades has been the challenging of the notion of an immutable literary "canon" and the simultaneous appearance of a multiplicity of canons. In spite of Harold Bloom's efforts to uphold a fixed canon of authors by attacking postmodernists, marxists and feminists (1994, 20), many literary critics believe that the formation of any canon has as much to do with ideology as with aesthetics (Kolodny 1980; Schweickart 1986; Zavala 1995; Redondo Goicoechea 2001). A canon, as in the case of the books of the Bible, is habitually defined as an officially recognized set of sacred books; the lists of texts and authors that we include in our course syllabi, reading lists, and anthologies still illustrate this meaning of the word. For the purpose of my study, however, I return to the original sense of the Greek term "canon", that is, a work excellent as a model. It is my view that discussions of the canon should focus not on the creation of lists of authoritative texts that exhibit universal aesthetic and cultural values but rather on how literary texts labeled as "canonical " or "excellent as models" were considered by their intended readers. Despite the fact that "until the Renaissance, selective canons in literature were generally of little importance", and that "selective canons of European vernacular literature blossomed only in the eighteenth century" (Harris 1991, 113), we spend a great deal of time negotiating which texts and authors should be privileged in the classroom . This exercise of constant revision of the "canon" reveals how La corónica 32.1 (Fall, 2003): 105-18 106Montserrat PieraLa corónica 32.1, 2003 ineffective the concept of a "canon" has become. It also draws attention to the fact that a list of canonical texts can never be fixed, immutable and universal. On the contrary, in order to be useful as a tool for teaching or research -and since total inclusiveness is impossible— any canon will have to be selective, changing and flexible. The issue of canonicity becomes even more complicated when applied to the study of medieval women's texts. On one hand, it is almost impossible to establish a canon of their literary works because so many of them have been lost or subjected to various fortunes of composition and transmission. Besides, how are we to ascertain whether or not a work was ever considered "canonical" when we are, in fact, so distant from the historical period in which it was composed and from the audiences that might have enjoyed or rejected it? On the other hand, while feminist literary historians would like to transform or open up the traditional literary canon to include contributions that have been silenced by centuries of neglect (Sullivan 1983; Lacarra 1988; Zavala 1995; Bratsch-Prince 2000; Redondo Goicoechea 2001), they do not aim to accomplish this by foregrounding texts that are not artistically deserving. Every time one analyzes a text authored by a woman, one faces the risk of having his or her work marginalized or disregarded by other critics, or of being accused of studying texts that are only interesting as historical curiosities. As Constance A. Sullivan states: "Chercher les femmes," newly interpreted, is more or less what the critical establishment, not entirely accurately, believes to be the goal of feminist literary criticism. By this they mean that what feminist critics do in literary studies is the marginally relevant task either of rediscovering "lost" creative works ... written by women, or re-evaluating known works by women in order to claim for them their proper place in a list of "sacred texts" that form the critically accepted canon of literary products. (1983, 93) Sullivan suggests that, while both approaches are laudable, the real contribution of feminist criticism should be "the re-examination of the entire literary canon from a feminist perspective" (94). The Iberian author that I foreground in this essay, Isabel de Villena (1430-1490) , demands that we use all of the approaches outlined above as we seek to better understand her intellectual contribution to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 105-118
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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