Really interesting article by KEVIN J.H. DETTMAR in the August 4, 2006 edition on the role of permissions costs in forming the canon currently. He discusses both the costs of permissions (that eat into profits) and also categorizes four kinds of permissions, particularly in 20th Century anthologies, where, of course, all of the permissions problems occur.
The "A" list - materials that have to be included like Woolf, Joyce, etc.
A second category are works by authors (he uses Auden) where one could chose between a number of works, that one specific work has not come to represent the author. In the case of Auden, the permission charge was $20 a line, which influenced how much of his work was included in the Anthology.
I resent being forced to make absurd calculations, such as five lines of Auden equals one page of Salman Rushdie. Although Auden is one of the 20th century's most gifted English-language poets, he is represented in the Longman by a mere handful of poems, most of which are somewhat familiar choices...
The third category are interesting writers that an editor may want to include as part of an anthology. He uses Plath as an example, where in the Second Edition, her work was included, but because permissions cost nearly $3500, her work was not included in the Third Edition.
His fourth category is a misc category. He includes being denied permission to include a poem. This fourth category are often examples of denial for inclusion for one reason or another.
The piece is very illumnating, as it shows that anthologies, just as we saw with documentary films, and other areas of culture, are being very strongly shaped by the price of inclusion. We live in strange times indeed, when our canon -- the works on which our children build their notion of culture depend on how steep the permission cost is, and how important worth the it is to pay the cost of inclusion. On a more positive note, perhaps we will move away from the canon and embrace more interesting choices--different choices, and for that we will be a better culture. Who needs to read Woolf anyway? Let's read something new! Can one imagine an anthology on British lit without the big names, that we create a new road? Wierd, but interesting. Perhaps it will make us reevaluate (again) how those canonized name came to hold the place they do in the first place. And maybe if we did not put such great importance on specific writers, perhaps the literary executors might not hold such power. Just some thoughts...