The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages  

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"Here Vico's prophecy is again illuminating; the Theocratic Age exalts the gods, the Aristocratic Age celebrates heroes, the Democratic Age mourns and values human beings. There was for Vico no Chaotic Age, only a Chaos during which the recourse to a Theocratic Age would commence." --The Western Canon


"I am not concerned with . . . the current debate between the right-wing defenders of the Canon, who wish to preserve it for its supposed (and nonexistent) moral values, and the academic-journalistic network I have dubbed the School of Resentment, who wish to overthrow the Canon in order to advance their supposed (and nonexistent) programs for social change." --The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom, p. 4


"Shakespeare, who scarcely relies upon philosophy, is more central to Western culture than are Plato and Aristotle, Kant and Hegel, Heidegger and Wittgenstein." --The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom, p. 10


"Shakespeare's eminence is, I am certain, the rock upon which the School of Resentment must at last founder." --The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom, p. 25


"Ideology plays a considerable role in literary canon-formation if you want to insist that an aesthetic stance is itself an ideology, an insistence that is common to all six branches of the School of Resentment: Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists, Semioticians." --The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom, p. 527


"The hero of these anticanonizers is Antonio Gramsci, who in his Selections from the Prison Notebooks denies that any intellectual can be free of the dominant social group if he relies upon merely the "special qualification" that he shares with the craft of his fellows (such as other literary critics): "Since these various categories of traditional intellectuals experience through an 'esprit de corps' their uninterrupted historical qualification, they thus put themselves forward as autonomous and independent of the dominant social group." --The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom, p. 25


"Finding myself now surrounded by professors of hip-hop; by clones of Gallic-Germanic theory; by ideologues of gender and of various sexual persuasions; by multiculturalists unlimited, I realize that the Balkanization of literary studies is irreversible. All of these Resenters of the aesthetic value of literature are not going to go away, and they will raise up institutional res enters after them." -- The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom, p. 517


"Ideology plays a considerable role in literary canon-formation if you want to insist that an aesthetic stance is itself an ideology, an insistence that is common to all six branches of the School of Resentment: Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists, Semioticians." --The Western Canon (1994), Harold Bloom, p.527

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages is a 1994 book about western literature by the critic Harold Bloom, in which the author defends the concept of the Western canon by discussing 26 writers (22 men and 4 women) whom he sees as central to the canon. Shakespeare is most important author in the book with 1145 mentions, Freud is also central with 359. Freud and Montaigne are the only two non-fiction only writers.

Contents

Summary

Bloom defends the concept of the Western canon by discussing 26 writers whom he sees as central to the canon:

William Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri, Geoffrey Chaucer, Miguel de Cervantes, Michel de Montaigne, Molière, John Milton, Samuel Johnson, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Henrik Ibsen, Sigmund Freud, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda, Fernando Pessoa, Samuel Beckett

Bloom argues against what he calls the "School of Resentment", which includes feminist literary criticism, Marxist literary criticism, Lacanians, New Historicism, Deconstructionists, and semioticians. The Western Canon includes four appendices listing works that Bloom at the time considered canonical, stretching from earliest scriptures to Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Bloom later disowned the list, saying that it was written at his editor's insistence and distracted from the book's intention.

Bloom's four ages

Bloom divides the body of Western literature into four ages:

The Theocratic Age

(2000 BC – 1321 AD), with five main traditions that influenced the West:

The Aristocratic Age

(1321–1832), with five major bodies of literature:

The Democratic Age

(1832–1900), when the strength of American and Russian literature begins

The Chaotic Age

(1900–today), which includes a multitude of countries and authors:

Reception

Norman Fruman of the New York Times wrote that "The Western Canon is a heroically brave, formidably learned and often unbearably sad response to the present state of the humanities".

The novelist A. S. Byatt wrote:
Bloom's canon is in many ways mine. It consists of those writers all other writers have to know and by whom they measure themselves. A culture's canon is an evolving consensus of individual canons. Canonical writers changed the medium, the language they were working in. People who merely describe what is happening now don't last. Mine includes writers I don't necessarily like. D.H. Lawrence, though I hate him in a way, Jane Austen, too.

See also




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