The western canon The books and school of the ages

Harold Bloom

Book - 1993

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New York : Harcourt Brace c1993.
Main Author
Harold Bloom (-)
Physical Description
578 p.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents unavailable.
Review by Choice Review

In a literary world that has seldom heard of a "canon" since Mortimer J. Adler et al. produced The Great Books of the Western World 40 years ago, Harold Bloom comes forth with his own selective list and commentary. Caveat lector! Bloom is well aware of his position among contemporary critics when he says, "This book is not directed to academics, because only a small remnant of them still read for the love of reading." This theme is sustained as he opens with an "Elegy for the Canon," then concludes with appendixes of reading lists, the final one of which lists works of the 20th century--under the heading "The Chaotic Age"--that Bloom suggests will be canonical. While begging for a recognition of literary excellence in each age, he bemoans the fact that publicity rather than literary integrity is the norm for the "School of Resentment." The book is delightful and instructive, from whatever posture you approach it, cynic or disciple. Bloom covers 26 major authors in a substantial analytical style. Despite Bloom's self-deprecation, the book is recommended for academic libraries. General; undergraduate and up. A. G. Tassin; University of New Orleans

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Booklist Review

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

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Library Journal Review

Any new "real" book by Bloom (humanities, Yale Univ.), as opposed to one containing recycled essays, is a major event. This salvo in defense of the Western canon is particularly important. Bloom pulls few punches in arguing the importance of influence and tradition. Shakespeare is the centerpiece here, and 25 other pivotal authors are considered in relationship to him, each other, and their respective genres in a way too complex to explain. Coverage is multinational and multigenerational. To get much out of this work, readers will have to have read very broadly and deeply. The main authors are only touchstones; any given page is likely to reference four or five authors, and hundreds are actually discussed. Some will see this as reactionary, others as visionary; it should cause some stir in the literary establishment. Essential for most academic and large public libraries.-Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

One of our biggest critical gun fires a characteristically Olympian broadside into the canon debate, no quarter spared for the politically correct. In measures carefully calculated to raise the hackles of would-be canon revisers Bloom (The Book of J, 1990, etc.) assails ``the current disease of moral smugness that is destroying literary study in the name of socio-economic justice.'' He loftily derides the notion that literature either has a social mission or can profitably be discussed in its own social and historical context. For Bloom, literary interest is always a question of artistic merit, which rests on the degree of ``literary individuality and poetic autonomy'' a text achieves. Bloom disclaims any ideology, but his preferred model of literary study--a solitary one--is as unexceptionally conservative as the qualities by which he determines merit. So too is the reading list that emerges from his account of the endless contest between ``strong poets'' and their even stronger precursors (the agonistic principle of ``anxiety of influence'' familiar from Bloom's earlier criticism), the strongest being Shakespeare, whom Bloom adores with unqualified Bardolatry. Doubtless, much of the debate The Western Canon is intended to provoke will rage around the Cultural Literacystyle ``ideal canon'' Bloom sets forth in an appendix (no Behn, Gaskell, or Alice Walker--a favorite target of Bloom's ire--though it does include poet Rita Dove, Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and other geographically and culturally far-ranging writers). Bloom's vast learning and elegant prose don't always save him from tired tirades against the imagined evils of feminist or materialist criticism, nor from repetitiousness: One of the problems of Bloom's approach is that all great writing can end up sounding rather too similar. But even those who disagree fundamentally with Bloom will find him an engaging antagonist. An unashamed spur to contention, and all the better for it: an elegant and erudite provocation.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.