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The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages (1994)

por Harold Bloom

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3,000174,620 (3.84)80
The author explores Western literary tradition by concentrating on the works of twenty-six authors central to the Canon. In this book, the author argues against ideology in literary criticism; laments the loss of intellectual and aesthetic standards; and tackles topics including multiculturalism, Marxism, feminism, neoconservatism, Afrocentrism, and the New Historicism. Insisting instead upon "the autonomy of the aesthetic," the author places Shakespeare at the center of the Western Canon. Shakespeare has become the touchstone for all writers who come before and after him, whether playwrights poets or storytellers, the author argues. In the creation of character, he maintains, Shakespeare has no true precursor and has left no one after him untouched. Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Ibsen, Joyce, and Beckett were all indebted to Shakespeare; Tolstoy and Freud rebelled against him; and Dante, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickens, Whitman, Dickinson, Proust, the modern Hispanic and Portuguese writers Borges, Neruda, and Pessoa are exquisite examples of how canonical writing is born of an originality fused with tradition.--adapted from jacket.… (mais)
Adicionado recentemente porWilhelmCronje, elduende22, MrLowman, davex, Elanna76, terrykathy, ddahl, MucheckDon
Bibliotecas LegadasTerence Kemp McKenna
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Un canone letterario è una raccolta di opere che una comunità riconosce come di particolare valore ed esemplarità. Si tratta di un elenco di autori e opere ritenute di alta qualità e meritevoli di studio. Il concetto di canone letterario è stato utilizzato nell'educazione per insegnare agli studenti le opere letterarie più importanti e per fornire un quadro per l'analisi letteraria. Il canone può essere visto come un modo per preservare il patrimonio culturale e plasmare l'identità culturale. I libri "Il canone letterario" di Massimo Onofri e "The Western Canon" di Harold Bloom discutono il concetto di canone letterario e forniscono esempi di opere considerate parte del canone occidentale.

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Harold Bloom, uno dei critici letterari più famosi del Novecento, è morto il 14 ottobre 2019 a ottantanove anni. Nel 1994 pubblicò The Western Canon, Il canone occidentale, uno dei libri più discussi della critica letteraria di tutti i tempi. Nel canone Bloom elenca i ventisei autori che secondo lui definiscono e hanno fondato la letteratura occidentale. Secondo Bloom la storia della letteratura procede per contrapposizione e imitazione: gli scrittori del canone sono i rami da cui è scaturito tutto il resto. L’elenco comincia con Shakespeare, che per lui era «Dio»: «chiunque tu sia e ovunque ti trovi, è sempre davanti a te, concettualmente e quanto a immaginario».

Il Canone Occidentale attirò a Bloom molte critiche di razzismo e sessismo, per l’assenza di donne e l’affollamento di scrittori di lingua inglese. Bloom si difese parlando di Scuola del Risentimento, attribuendo le critiche alle correnti dei critici marxisti, femministi, neostorici, lacaniani, decostruzionisti, semioticisti. Sono celebri anche le sue stroncature feroci di alcuni degli scrittori contemporanei più famosi e apprezzati – Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, Dario Fo e Stephen King – e alle scelte dell’Accademia del Nobel: «L’hanno dato ad ogni idiota di quinta categoria, da Doris Lessing, che ha scritto un solo libro decente quarant’anni fa, e oggi firma fantascienza femminista, a Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, illeggibile, a Dario Fo, semplicemente ridicolo».

Per Harold Bloom la biografia e le convinzioni politiche di un autore non sono criteri validi per definire il valore letterario di un testo, in cui conta solo «la forza estetica, la quale consiste primariamente di un amalgama: padronanza del linguaggio figurativo, originalità, capacità cognitiva, sapere, esuberanza espressiva»: «leggere i grandi scrittori – come Omero, Dante, Shakespeare, Tolstoj – non ci rende cittadini migliori. Tutta l’arte è completamente inutile, come diceva il sublime Oscar Wilde, che aveva ragione su tutto. Ci ha detto anche che la cattiva poesia è sincera. Se potessi, ordinerei che queste parole fossero scolpite all’ingresso di ogni università, così che ogni studente possa meditare sullo splendore di questa visione».

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 ( )
  AntonioGallo | Jul 10, 2023 |
This book is half brilliant, a quarter nonsense, and a quarter defensible but repetitive and angry venting at deconstructionists, New Historicists, neo-Marxists, queer theorists, feminists, etc. Okay, art should be judged on its esthetic and conceptual merits and not as it accords with someone’s political or social agenda. Fair enough, and enough said already, Harold. He idolizes Shakespeare, and makes an almost convincing case for us to do the same. He’s incredibly well-read and knowledgeable, highly intelligent, and often has keen insight (not the same as having wisdom, but it’s not clear he’s aware of the difference). He’s best with older literature. His chapter on Emily Dickenson is worth its weight in gold – I really wish he’d write a 500 page book on her poetry rather than yet another tome idolizing the Bard and lamenting the decline of Western culture. He’s at his worst in his chapter on Freud; he recognizes that Freud’s theories are baloney, but he thinks he was one of the greatest creative writers in history. Quoi!? I’ve read Freud and I just don’t see it – not even close (and I’ve never heard anyone else make a similar claim). But the book’s certainly worth a look for the good parts. Also for the “canonical” book lists in the back. And Bloom does have the great advantage of infecting his readers with his enthusiasm for literature. That goes a good way towards compensating for all the bile. ( )
  garbagedump | Dec 9, 2022 |
Harold Bloom was an unabashed aesthete and contrarian, an unashamed elitist with working-class roots. He was a passionate advocate for strong, rich reading of imaginative literature, which, he fears, is a dying endeavor.
Twenty-one of the twenty-three chapters are devoted to twenty-six writers who, in Bloom’s consideration, are the strongest in the canon, beginning with Shakespeare at the canon’s center. Shakespeare’s greatness is not his dramatic skill—others, such as Ibsen, surpass him in this—but in his “cognitive acuity, linguistic energy, and power of invention” (p. 44). Shakespeare’s genius reveals itself not only in that his characters speak to themselves (soliloquy), but that they overhear what they are saying, learn from it, and develop. And since for Bloom one of the hallmarks of canonicity is “agon”—the struggle—Shakespeare in a way determines who else belongs in the canon: those writers who can not avoid matching themselves against him, beginning with Milton and extending to Joyce.
I enjoyed and learned from all of the essays (the text reads more like a collection of essays that hasn’t been edited to avoid repetition than a coherent test). Some held my attention more than others, though, for instance, that on Virginia Woolf. Bloom is also very good on Whitman and Emily Dickinson.
It’s in the nature of things, I suppose, that the appendix of this book got more attention than the main text itself. This is a list of three thousand or so titles that Bloom offers as his suggestion for the canon. Anyone who reads the text of the book would discover that Bloom stresses “no one has the authority to tell us what the Western Canon is, certainly not from about 1800 to the present day. It is not, it cannot be, precisely the list I give, or that anyone else might give” (p. 36). Among those who apparently didn’t read this is the author of the text on the back cover of my edition, who refers to the book as “more than just a required-reading list.”
You might miss some of your favorite books from the list and might feel that some on the list don’t belong there. Bloom wouldn’t quibble with your right to do that, but he does set a high bar for challenging his selections: he only includes books that offer sustained pleasure after two or more readings. I won’t make it through all three thousand once.
The book is relatively accessible to the serious reader. It is well-argued and relatively free of the arcane terminology of the guild of literary criticism. I’ll confess, though, that I’m not sure what it means to “perspectivize” something. He overuses the word “preternatural,” which seems to appear in every chapter as his go-to adjective for a writer who is astoundingly good. Some of his terms are illuminating, though: I’d not previously encountered an author who used “contaminate” in a positive sense. And I enjoyed his description of what a desert island list is: a list “against that day when, fleeing one’s enemies, one is cast ashore, or when one limps away, all warfare done, to pass the rest of one’s time quietly reading” (p. 490). ( )
2 vote HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
Summary: A spirited defense of the traditional Western Canon of literature against what Bloom calls the “School of Resentment” and a discussion of 26 representative works Bloom would include.

Harold Bloom wrote this book in 1994 at a time when the “dead white males” who constitute most of the works considered part of “the Western Canon” were under attack. With the continued growth of feminist, anti-racist, post-colonial, and queer criticism, many of the works Bloom treats in this volume have been further marginalized. Alternate reading lists have flourished, classics departments have closed down, and course offerings focused on those in the “traditional” canon have been done away with in many English departments.

This is not without some warrant. The men clearly outnumbered the women. Writers of other cultures were non-existent as were those who were BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and LGBTQ. The perspectives of most represented ruling and affluent classes, and the dominant powers of the world.

Harold Bloom is less diplomatic than I am. He calls the critics the School of Resentment, who want to replace these works with representative modern authors. Bloom’s case is that the works we’ve called “canonical” have survived not because of some hegemonic dominance of white and mostly male proponents, but because of their compelling originality and what he would call their “strangeness.” Coming from a different time and social milieu, they nevertheless pose insights about the human condition that generations of readers, and other writers have wrestled with.

For Bloom, the works of William Shakespeare are at the center of the canon, with Dante and Milton close by. Under the categories of aristocratic, democratic, and chaotic ages, he considers 26 authors representative of those he would include in the canon. A theme running through his discussion of authors from Milton to Whitman to Beckett and Joyce is how they interacted with and defined themselves in relation to the Bard. Their “anxiety” about Shakespeare, Bloom contends, is part of what drives them to their own brand of greatness.

Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, and Virginia Woolf manage to make it into the men’s club. Bloom seems to especially like Dickenson, praising her intellectual complexity, literary originality and own brand of strangeness. Borges, Neruda, and Pessoa also make his list.

Bloom plainly doesn’t care about critics or the academic guild where he spent so many years. What he does care about is the love of reading and the awareness all bibliophiles have of there being so many books and so little time. He wonders how many of the books replacing what once were canonical will be read in a generation or two. He also observes how great authors in later generations wrestled with the greatness of those who preceded them. The inference is, what great influences will our contemporaries have? What does this bode for literature.

Bloom also offers us an extensive list from the Greeks to the present (at least the 1990’s) of books he considers worth reading, going far beyond the works he focuses on. This list alone might keep most of us busy for a lifetime, and expands to include a variety of Latin American and African authors in the recent era.

If you have not read the works Bloom discusses, the book could be a hard, long slog. In that case, read the “Prelude and Preface,” “An Elegy for the Canon” and “Elegaic Conclusion” and you will have the gist of the argument. On the other hand, if you know many of the works, Bloom offers a fascinating intertextual commentary. Beware that Bloom is a curmudgeon who has little sympathy for contemporary authors seeking to develop voices unbeholden to the “dead white males.” Yet I think we must also consider what makes works sufficiently great that they are read long after the authors (and all our literary critics) are dead. Are not these the works we hope to read before we are dead? ( )
1 vote BobonBooks | Apr 27, 2021 |
Now this is probably more the type of book my colleagues back in public school would have approved so many years ago. What can I say? Bloom can be heavy at times, but the guy is very well read and brings a lot to the book. In spite of the heaviness at times, the guy does have a passion for the books that he discusses. This is a book to read a little at a time until you get to the end. Anyone who considers themselves well read probably ought to read it. ( )
1 vote bloodravenlib | Aug 17, 2020 |
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Harold Bloom at his best is a rewarding and humane critic; one feels obliged to express gratitude for his many passing generosities before dismissing his Western canon with a gentle "Thank you, but no, thank you."
adicionada por jburlinson | editarNew York Review of Books, Robert M. Adams (sítio Web pago) (Nov 17, 1994)
 
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The author explores Western literary tradition by concentrating on the works of twenty-six authors central to the Canon. In this book, the author argues against ideology in literary criticism; laments the loss of intellectual and aesthetic standards; and tackles topics including multiculturalism, Marxism, feminism, neoconservatism, Afrocentrism, and the New Historicism. Insisting instead upon "the autonomy of the aesthetic," the author places Shakespeare at the center of the Western Canon. Shakespeare has become the touchstone for all writers who come before and after him, whether playwrights poets or storytellers, the author argues. In the creation of character, he maintains, Shakespeare has no true precursor and has left no one after him untouched. Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Ibsen, Joyce, and Beckett were all indebted to Shakespeare; Tolstoy and Freud rebelled against him; and Dante, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickens, Whitman, Dickinson, Proust, the modern Hispanic and Portuguese writers Borges, Neruda, and Pessoa are exquisite examples of how canonical writing is born of an originality fused with tradition.--adapted from jacket.

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