At an Eastercon panel this year, John Clute made a really interesting point about studying science fiction and fantasy. He said that it’s about the old and the new.
On the old side, you need to study the sf+f megatext of the last couple of centuries. This is the mass of stories, tropes, and conversations that have put us where we are. Without an awareness of that, you’ll miss understanding what we have. As a writer, you’ll recreate things that have been done to death.
On the new side, if sf+f aren’t at the edge of what’s new, if they aren’t presenting us with novel things, then they aren’t worth studying. We should aim to provide something new.
I’m sure that his point has far wider application. It’s relevant to other academic fields. It’s relevant to creating sf+f, not just studying it. Maybe that mingling of old and new is relevant to everything in life (though I’m stretching there).
But this is why, much as I dislike facing the cultural cannon, it’s important to know about it. The new and old are intertwined, and they’re both vital.