"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Elegiac conclusions: Reading The Western Canon (1994) by Harold Bloom

Reading The Western Canon (1994) by Harold Bloom is an excellent way to cope with low-grade fever and sinus issues. Bloom's passions are certainly feverish, and probably come with a little catarrh, too.

Preface and Prelude

[....]I seek to isolate the qualities that made these authors canonical, that is, authoritative in our culture.

Elegiac Conclusion

[....]Resenters of the aesthetic value of literature are not going to go away, and they will raise up institutional resenters after them.

[....]I still decline the Eliotic nostalgia for Theocratic ideology...

[....]I see no reason for arguing with anyone about literary preferences.

[....]Such a reader does not read for easy pleasure or to expiate social guilt, but to enlarge a solitary existence.

[....] [I] return to tell you neither what to read nor how to read it, only what I have read and think worthy of rereading, which may be the only pragmatic test for the canonical.

[....]As a branch of literature, criticism will survive, but probably not in our teaching institutions.

[....]You cannot teach someone to love great poetry if they come to you without such love. How can you teach solitude? Real reading is a lonely activity and does not teach anyone to become a better citizen. Perhaps the ages of reading—Aristocratic, Democratic, Chaotic—now reach terminus, and the reborn Theocratic era will be almost wholly an oral and visual culture.

[....]English and related departments have always been unable to define themselves and unwise enough to swallow up everything that seems available for ingestion. There is a dreadful justice in such voraciousness....

[....]strongest poetry is cognitively and imaginatively too difficult to be read deeply by more than a relative few of any social class, gender, race, or ethnic origin.

[....]The very rare, strong critics do not extend or modify or revise the Canon, though they certainly attempt to do so.... they only ratify the true work of canonization, which is carried on by the perpetual agon between past and present.

[....]the canonical potential of The Crying of Lot 49 depends more on our uncanny sense that it is being imitated by Miss Lonelyhearts.

[....]the Western Canon is Shakespeare and Dante. Beyond them, it is what they absorbed and what absorbs them.

[As opposed to Historicism]...merely reasonable sense of finding adequate backgrounds.

[....]contexts, however chosen, are assigned more force and value than the poem by Milton, the novel by Dickens, or Macbeth. I am not at all certain what the metaphor of "social energies" stands or substitutes for, but, like the Freudian drives, such energies cannot write or read or indeed do anything at all.

[....] this idea that you benefit the insulted and injured by reading someone of their own origins rather than reading Shakespeare is one of the oddest illusions ever promoted by or in our schools.

[....]The deepest truth about secular canon-formation is that it is performed by neither critics nor academies, let alone politicians. Writers, artists, composers themselves determine canons, by bridging between strong precursors and strong successors. Let us take the most vital contemporary American authors, the poets Ashbery and Merrill and the prose writer of epic fictions, Pynchon.

[....]Canonical prophecy needs to be tested about two generations after a writer dies.

[....]sociopolitical considerations can be turned inside out by canon-producing influence relations. Crane rejected Eliot's vision but could not evade Eliot's idiom. Great styles are sufficient for canonicity because they possess the power of contamination, and contamination is the pragmatic test for canon formation.

[....]To go from Shakespeare to Dante or Cervantes or even Tolstoy is somehow to have the illusion of suffering a loss in sensuous immediacy. We look back at Shakespeare and regret our absence from him because it seems an absence from reality.

[....]In this assertion I follow Nietzsche, who warned us that what we can find words for is already dead in our hearts, so that there is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking. Hamlet agrees with Nietzsche, and both might have extended the contempt to the act of writing. But we do not read to unpack our hearts, so there is no contempt in the act of reading. Traditions tell us that the free and solitary self writes in order to overcome mortality.

[William Hazlitt] ....one of the few critics definitively in the Canon

[....]The pragmatic question has become: "What shall I not bother to read?"

[....]As soon as one accepts any part of the dogma of the School of Resentment and admits that aesthetic choices are masks for social and political overdeterminations, such questions quickly become easily answerable. By a variant on Gresham's Law, bad writing drives out good, and social change is served by Alice Walker rather than by any author of more talent and disciplined imagination.

[....]canon formation, even if it necessarily always reflects class interests, is a highly ambivalent phenomenon

[....]ambivalences define centrality in a canonical context.

[....]a canon is an achieved anxiety , just as any strong literary work is its author's achieved anxiety.

[....]The literary canon does not baptize us into culture; it does not make us free of cultural anxiety.

[....]Rather, it confirms our cultural anxieties, yet helps to give them form and coherence.


8 December 2021

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