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[CFP Journal] Literary Canons, In/Out of Time

Special Issue of the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies

Periodization and canonization are, in a sense, two sides of the same process of cultural critique. In many ways, art, literature, and other forms of cultural production are, at least in the modern era, understood, disseminated, and produced within a periodized framework. Simultaneously, the emergence and construction of canons depend upon consubstantial demarcations. While canons tend to exist as a spatial metaphor—a space in which great works synchronically linger side by side, Homer next to Woolf, Cervantes next to Morrison—each item is recognized periodically (Picasso’s cubism or Warhol’s postmodern art). And vice versa: to understand the temporal limits of a period, one has to canonize its “important” or immemorial works. The canon is thus made of works carrying with them—as they are canonized—the signature of their period.

Today, speaking of canonization has become problematic. The feminist and postcolonial realization that any canon isn’t some “natural” accumulation of masterpieces but is an act of mediation that involves the exclusion of “other” voices has long been accepted. What follows, however, isn’t simply a demand for the “de-colonization” of the canon, or its expansion, but rather a literal questioning of the importance of canonization per se. While the democratic sentiment generating such cultural processes is palpable, we wish to discuss its accompanying processes. The dissolution of the role of the “canon” goes hand in hand with populist attacks on the notion of cultural mediation itself. Mostly attacked using the moniker of “the elites” (often used by populists as they try to undermine the liberal social order), we wish to ask about the function of a culture without mediating institutions.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we wish to point out the connection between the dissolution of the canon and the crisis of periodization—two processes that, we argue, should be thought of together. While the first process of deconstructing “meta-narratives” is often celebrated, literature, art, and cultural critique are encountering, over the last few decades, a hard time periodizing. While “postmodernity” is the blanket term for the last 70 or so years of cultural production, we wish to point out the lacuna in which the last few decades—which saw dramatic social, economic, political, and cultural changes—have been periodized. This problem goes well beyond the field of cultural production. Terms such as “meta-modernism,” “late-liberalism,” “capitalist realism,” and even “new feudalism” have been raised in an attempt to capture our historical moment, and their failure to resonate bears significance. Put bluntly, the problems of the canon are interconnected with the critical failure to tell time—and periodize our current era. As such, our issue premise begins with the following questions: Are we still in the postmodern moment (which brought with it the dissolution of canonicity) or are we inhabiting another time, one which we have yet to periodize? And, is the ideal of a culture without mediation (without elites) something that is even possible? And if not, how can we rethink canonization and periodization without falling back to reactionary solutions?

These symptoms are also at work in Israeli cultural production, and especially in Hebrew literature, which is now suffering a long absence of historicity. While some attempts have been made in that direction (Shem-Tov and Gomel, Schwartz), it seems as if the institutions responsible for mediation have accepted the—now almost farcical—notion that history has indeed ended. Attempts at periodization have been undertaken by recent Marxist critiques—and we wish to open up these important questions to other critical perspectives.

Please send your paper title with a short description of 100 words by September 1st. Selected papers will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Modern Hebrew Studies (Taylor & Francis).

Guest editor: Yoav Ronel (

Editors: Yaron Peleg (, Eran Kaplan (