Literature The Western Canon


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Harold Bloom, an know American literary critic, publish in 1994 The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages.

Bloom defends the concept of the Western canon, which includes a collection of essential literary works of the Western Civilization. He defends that canon against what he calls the “school of resentment”—a group that includes feminist literary critics, multiculturalists, marxist scholars, deconstructionists, and others. These critics, according to Bloom, prioritize political and social activism over aesthetic values.

The essential literary works of the canon are considered foundational and enduring, shaping the cultural and intellectual heritage of the Western world.

Bloom identifies 26 writers whom he deems central to the Western canon. These writers span different epochs and genres, leaving an indelible mark on literature.

One of the critics made to the book is its narrow focus on British literature, overlooking works from other European countries.
Half of the total number of writers, 13, are English-speaking.

He leaves out other important writers such as Dostoevsky, Petrarch, Bocaccio, Schiller, Hölderlin, Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Rimbaud, Pushkin, Gogol, Melville and others.

The Western Canon focuses on 26 writers, but in a series of appendices, Bloom lists hundreds of books by various other writers that he considers canonical. Bloom later rejected the list, claiming that his editor had insisted on it.

The full list can be found here:

Despite its flaws, The Western Canon is an important work that celebrates the timeless treasures of Western literature.
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It's noble that Mr. Bloom changed his mind. His list beats every "best movie ever" list by far in terms of ridiculousness. Not even Homer is included. Balzac's La Comédie humaine alone puts the entire work of all the English/American writers combined to shame, bar Shakespeare. What could Mr. Bloom possibly mean by "aesthetic values"? All good literature reflects the political and social reality of its time. Shakespeare was a truly revolutionary writer, for he lived in a particularly revolutionary period of English history. Never again has English literature reached these heights. All the literature written in England in the following centuries pales in comparison to that of continental Europe and especially France! To list a hack writer like Franz Kafka but exclude Schiller, Flaubert, Balzac, Boccaccio, Homer, Hölderlin is beyond stupid, regardless of what (financial) aims his editor and publisher might have pursued. Kafka is clearly a nod to pop cultural demands. I'm surprised he didn't list Dan Brown and Stephen King.
Bloom is clearly biased towards English literature, I agree that it's a big flaw in his work.

Despite not including them in the list of 26 writers, Homer and Virgil are frequently mentioned in the book.

For example:

In chapter 1
“I believe there are only a few works that appear to be more essential to the Western Canon than Paradise Lost, Shakespeare's major tragedies, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dante's Divine Comedy, the Torah, the Gospels, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Homer’s epic poems.”

In chapter 23
“In the same way, the crucial ancient poet in the history of the entire Western literary canon is not … - Homer, Dante, Chaucer and Shakespeare - but rather Virgil, the great link between Hellenistic poetry (Callimachus) and European epic tradition (Dante, Tasso, Spenser, Milton).”

And Homer, Virgil and also Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes works are on the complete list of books that Bloom considers canonical.

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