- Hardcover: 578 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1st ed edition (August 31, 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0151957479
- ISBN-13: 978-0151957477
- Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (102 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #170,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages Hardcover – August 31, 1994
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Discussed and debated, revered and reviled, Bloom's tome reinvigorates and re-examines Western Literature, arguing against the politicization of reading. His erudite passion will encourage you to hurry and finish his book so you can pick up Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens once again to rediscover their original magic. In addition, his appendix listing of the "future" canon - the books today that will be timeless tomorrow - is sure to be the template for future debate. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
A review of 200 or 300 words cannot do justice to a book like this: it is the summation of a great critic's most fundamental beliefs--something like a dying Bernstein's last performance of Mahler's ninth, though in this case a lot less sad. In fact, this book of essays represents Bloom at his most celebratory, and there's a wonderful, vigorous energy about it. Why, one wonders, reading it, do we bother reading anybody but Shakespeare, Dante, or Chaucer? The argument for Shakespeare is particularly compelling. Bloom believes that Shakespeare is the canon: that he defines for the Western world the standards by which we judge all literature. And more: he defines for us what we are ourselves, what we understand of human nature. This argument, offered with Bloom's customary flare for the controversial, is akin to the remark that all philosophy is a footnote to Plato, and like it, is probably in large measure true. Thus, modern psychology doesn't add very much to what people could have already learned from reading Shakespeare because Shakespeare defines the limits of what we know: we can't get beyond or outside him. Certainly, experience teaches that Bloom is right; indeed, the evolution of human consciousness seems to have taken one of its periodic jolts forward about the time of Shakespeare, and he above all seems to have captured the entire scope of what was new. As Bloom points out, Shakespeare is universally adored, in all languages, and perhaps it is for this reason. The essays on Dante and Chaucer are almost equally powerful, though in a sense less awesome. And the brief remarks about the powerful movements of resentment trying to push apart these great pillars of the Western canon, though perspicacious, are melancholy and incidental. Get this book for the great essays on Shakespeare. For lovers of literature, probably nothing more powerful or in an odd way more religious will be written this year. Stuart Whitwell
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Literary criticism is "perspectivism," a technique once employed by Nietzsche as he railed against the decadence and resentment of his age. Bloom puts Nietzsche's perspectivism to good use as he critiques the literary criticism of our own age. He begins by invoking the immortal poets. We soon discover what bright stars they are as his performance becomes a haunting aria and he cries out in anguish at the "Twilight of the Idols." Bloom's exasperation with the demise of epic literature in our time reminds me of Nietzsche's madman proclaiming that "God is Dead!'' Is this the new nihilism?
Bloom exerts himself beyond all bounds in this book. His mission is nothing less than our total conversion to the Western Canon, that pantheon of "liberating gods" that Emerson believed all great poets to be! And he succeeds! We come to believe in the secular immortality of all those who struggled to pen "the Third Testament" or simply tell tales that enrich our souls, and sharpen our sense of human nature.
The "Canon" took off like one of Von Braun's rockets when I read Bloom's exegesis of "Goethe's Faust, Part Two: The Countercanonical Poem." I have never read a more powerful essay on the canonical versus the counter-canonical, which is, it seems, the key to the nihilism that lurks within the daemonic tale of Faust.
In it we already see the seeds of Nietzsche's Ahab-like attempts to harpoon his own White Whale, which was really the God of Abraham. Melville understood this nihilistic urge to slay the Deity with gnosis. He foresaw the consequences of it and instead wrote a "Third Testament," Moby Dick. Thus, Bloom is wise to lament the slow death of the Western Canon as we descend into our modern Hades of MTV and Virtual Reality, for McLuhan's prophecy of debased literacy in the electronic age may soon come to pass. But alas, this book will at least remind us of the glory that was once "The Western Canon." May it shine on forever!
However, his book also irritated me. I can overlook the constant use of his favorite words: "declined," "agon," "proleptic," and "exuberant." But the constant rantings about the "School of Resentment," which would be feminists, Marxists, Foucauldians, and multiculturalists who reduce literature to ideology, got on my nerves and struck me as its own brand of resentment. I wish Bloom would have stuffed it all into an appendix or saved it for a book I would not have had to purchase.