Why do we really care what the best books ever written are? Because that way we can avoid wasting our time on the bad ones? Because then we can spend our hard-earned money on the good ones? The more I try to parse it, the more this business of best-of, of ranking things, seems a consumerist attitude. Again, it's not because our hard-earned money doesn't deserve to be spent well; it's the conflation of aesthetics with consumerism in a way we barely notice that's the problem.
I've long felt the point of having a canon should be to create a body of work that we should be encouraged to know as best we can, but not because we want everything to live up to the examples set there, or because we want to use one's knowledge of the canon as a shibboleth to part the knows from the know-nots. Some of the examples provided by any canon are going to be poor; some won't have aged well. They're milestones rather than classics, to use a labeling technique I've fallen back on before. But they need to be known, and it helps to have some way to keep stock of them — but not because we want to create with them a hierarchy of either works or people.
What most needs to happen is that enjoyment and appreciation — low- and high-brow interaction, if you want to call it that — can take place in ways that are not zero-sum. If someone has a deeply negative reaction to something I like and that has a close place to my heart, I'm willing to give that person's view a hearing. If at the end of that hearing I find myself less enamored of my enamored thing, such is life. It's an artifact, not a person, and I'd rather love people than things if I can help it.
So why is it that for many people, the thing is more lovable than the person who loves it? I guess for those many, artifacts are easier to love than their fellow man is a tempting way to avoid the messiness of human interaction. It's easy to draw lines by what the other guy loves or hates. Even people who are conscious of how objectifying and ludicrous all this is fall into it, because it's only those other people who do it.
(Related: I'm always amazed when otherwise educated, intelligent, foresighted, etc. people suddenly exhibit inexplicable and irreconcilable streaks of homophobia or transphobia. Point it out to them and they only get all the angrier, because they're not used to the idea that there may be whole swaths of their psyche where irrational responses are the rule and not the exception. They don't see themselves that way; therefore, they can't possibly be that way, and the one pointing out the irrationality is a malicious liar. QED.)
Anyway, I guess the central point is that we need to find some kind of cultural starting point for this work that puts the other person — creator, fan, whatever — above the artifacts they either dote on or are responsible for. Then again, there's no part of this world right now that couldn't use a little more I-Thou (pace Martin Buber) and a little less I-It or I-I.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind