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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages Paperback – September 1, 1995
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Top Customer Reviews
I began reading The Western Canon one year ago, and since that time I have, under Mr. Bloom's guidance, sampled hearty portions of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Eliot, Beckett and Proust, and have read tidbits of Whitman, Dante and Joyce as well. Harold Bloom is the teacher we all long for but seldom find; to him and to The Western Canon I owe the most intellectually rewarding year of my life.
This book has had the greatest influence on me of any book I have read in recent memory, for many reasons. To begin with, Bloom's erudition is staggering. That he could read all that he has, and in addition retain and catalogue all of it, is simply beyond my comprehension. Bloom focuses on 28 authors he considers canonical and provides extensive descriptions and quotations from their work. If I understand Bloom correctly, he regards these authors as comprising the Western Canon, but he also has an appendix listing hundreds of authors that, I think, comprise the national canons of different countries. Whatever. But Bloom's importance lies in providing vivid enough descriptions of some major works so that one is motivated to read them. In my own case, at least, he has succeeded brilliantly.
Solely because of this book, in the past few years I have done all of the following, which I might not otherwise have done: 1) Read Goethe's "Faust," Parts I and II. Part II is absolutely wild, and is every bit as great as Bloom says. 2) Read "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens, which Bloom regards as the greatest English novel. It probably is. 3) Seen a production of "Endgame" by Samuel Beckett. Not my cup of tea, but it piques discussion at least. 4) Read several novels by Cormac McCarthy, beginning with "Blood Meridian." Bloom regards McCarthy as one of many successors to Shakespeare. Bloom is right; McCarthy is a powerful writer. I don't think I had ever heard of him before I read Bloom.Read more ›
While the appendices, with their lists of books, are the section of The Western Canon that provokes the most argument, these take up relatively few of the book's 578 pages. Bloom begins with a "Preface and Prelude," then indicates the mood the book will assume in "An Elegy for the Canon." Adopting Giambattista Vico's theory of history, Bloom then goes on to discuss twenty-six writers from different ages of literature. From the Aristocratic Age: Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Cervantes, Montaigne, Molière, Milton, Johnson and Goethe; from the Democratic Age: Wordsworth, Austen, Whitman, Dickinson, Dickens, George Eliot, Tolstoy and Ibsen; and from the Chaotic Age: Freud, Proust, Joyce, Woolf, Kafka, Borges, Neruda, Pessoa and Beckett. Just before the appendices is the "Elegiac Conclusion," in which Bloom says he has "very little confidence that literary education will survive its current malaise," but he hopes that there will be "literate survivors."
Early in the book, Bloom tells us that he is not interested in the debate among those want to preserve the Western canon and those who want to destroy it. Instead, Bloom is interested only in literary aesthetics and he claims that canonicity comes "only by aesthetic strength, which is constituted primarily of an amalgam: mastery of figurative language, originality, cognitive power, knowledge, exuberance of diction.Read more ›
He begins with Shakespeare whom he calls the center of the canon. Bloom exalts Shakespeare almost to a godlike state in his aesthetic zeal. In fact, every other author in the book is related to Shakespeare in some way. For example, Chaucer's Pardoner, he says, was a prototype for Shakespeare's Iago and Edmund. Tolstoy, he says, could not handle the influence of Shakespeare in his works so much so that he had to disavow him in his essay What is art?. The reason Freud believed Shakespeare was really the Earl of Oxford is that he could not himself reckon with Shakespeare's greatness and Freud's reading of Shakespeare was really Shakespeare's reading of life.
Bloom can appear at times a little too radical in some of his statements. For example he claims that the Jesus of the American religion is not the true Jesus of Nazareth, of the Crucifixion, or of heaven but only the Jesus of the Resurrection.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The Canon is even more important now with all the wild attacks on White American and European authors. The truth transcends the PC propaganda.Published 7 months ago by Old and Slow
20 words or more? At work on lunch break. Great! Can't get enough of Harold Bloom.
20 words or more? At work on lunch break. Great! Read more
Very few individuals can make me feel like I am unread. However, every time I study anything written by Harold Bloom I discover an entire new list of authors and works with which... Read morePublished 11 months ago by Francis C. Donnelly
Dense with confusing metaphor but interesting. Bloom is idiosyncratic in his viewpoint - not your old English teacher. Deeply read, full of energy and enthusiasm. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Leslie Thomas
I haven’t read this book, but I have read enough Bloom to be wary of Bloom. In particular, I’ve read Bloom on Romantic poets. Read morePublished 14 months ago by Russell Streshly
The 'school of resentment' and the school of bad acting are entirely one and the same.
Its graduates are *weenies* on their INTELLECTUAL best behavior--they act as if at... Read more
Mr. Bloom loves to read, and he teaches us to love it as well. I am so pleased he bases his evaluations on merit rather than politics or political correctness.Published 20 months ago by Sancho Panzo
I have been collecting hundreds of books written by Scottish authors in order to devote the next several years to a project of immersing myself (a Scottish-American) deeply in the... Read morePublished 20 months ago by othoniaboys