This obviously made me think of our annual performances of Shakespeare's works in the summer. He is constantly reinvented, restaged, reconceived, and all so that we can constantly be reminded that Shakespeare is "as relevant as ever" or that "these texts written four hundred years ago still speak to us across the centuries."
In a culture where memory has become saturated with written communication distributed and recorded by print, canon formation serves the function that "ancestor worship" once did. Like voodoo and hoodoo, the English classics help control the dead to serve the interests of the living. The pubic performance of canonical works ritualizes these devotions under the guise of the aesthetic, reconfiguring the spirit world into a secular mystery consistent with the physical and mental segregation of the dead. In this reinvention of ritual, performers become the caretakers of memory through many kinds of public action, including the decorous refinement of protocols of grief.
But how true also that these texts are a way that we tell ourselves who we are. They are, in so many important ways, the keepers of identity--both USAmerican and English--for so many people, and a way of including (subsuming?) others inside that identity. To speak positively, these performances, these ritual acts of memory, can also be a way of expanding Englishness/USAmericanness in order to include. If I am logical, of course, I find that we perform Shakespeare as a way of keeping him alive, as a way of keeping this identity alive. But if it must constantly be reinvented, reimagined, reworked, how alive is it? When does such reconception become resuscitation?