Canon of American Literature
Canon: n., from the Latin canon or "rule." Originally, an ecclesiastical code of law or standard of judgment, later any standard of judgment, usually based upon determinate set of authorized texts, like the canonical books of the Bible, Torah, Qu'ran, or Sutras. In modern literature study, the "best" or "most important" or "most representative" works of secular literature which anchor the study of English and American literature. In religious canons, works previously treated as part of this set of texts but which have been excluded as inauthentic for some reason are "apocryphal" (also, "The Apocrypha"), from the Latin apocryphus or "spurious, " itself a loan word from Greek where it means "hidden." In literary studies, the "canon" of an author also is a name for those works known to have been written by her/him, as distinguished from those mistakenly or mischievously or maliciously attributed to her/him (e.g., "Chaucer's apocrypha, " most of which were identified and removed from the Chaucerian canon in the nineteenth and early twentieth century).
Until a literature has a "canon, " it has been argued, it has not risen to the level of sophistication at which it can be studied seriously by scholars. I would argue that the reverse is true: scholarly study creates canons by making accurate texts available and by defining the terms by which they are studied. Folk literatures, for instance, tend not to have canons until scholars have gotten into the act, collecting and correlating and analyzing the wild oral transmission of the folk tale or song. People might argue whether "Tune X" is "really a blues song rather than rock and roll or rhythm and blues, " but until a canon of "blues" exists, people will tend to disagree rather hopelessly about the facts. When asked whether "Tune X" is "a great blues song, " their opinions will be even more divided by appeals to unstable definitions until people have taken the time to make serious, systematic studies of the how the art is created.