f_0020467_17229 - © 2010 World Policy Institute 19 A...

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Unformatted text preview: © 2010 World Policy Institute 19 A Mongrel Canon Joel Whitney In 1994, the critic Harold Bloom mounted a vigorous public defense of the western lit- erary canon, which was then under siege. In his volume, “The Western Canon,” Bloom lauded the tradition of great western books, portraying himself as a singular reader in a one on one reverie with each of twenty-six canonical authors. No aspect beyond aes- thetics, or influence, should count. Or so he argued from one side of his mouth. But the Bloom-related buzz came from the very theme he pretended his readers should ignore—the political context surrounding the book, a context which, sadly, belatedly, persists. For the main problem with Bloom’s stance is that, as many writers with origins outside or partly outside the West can tell us, the Canon is universal in ways Bloom simul- taneously grasps and discounts. Bloom’s is a one-way universality found when productions of Shakespeare travel to Teh- ran. But all too rarely does Tehran get to Stratford-upon-Avon. Indeed, all writers who came after Shakespeare have stood in the shadow of his influence. And all, willfully or almost willfully, misread him—as a result of their “anxiety of influence” and as a way to cast him off and find their entry point into the Canon that Bloom and his school of thought would hold. In Shakespeare’s case, you can only work around him. He con- tains all of us. He invented us, anticipating all the scholarly breakthroughs in philoso- phy and psychology that would follow. This argument risks being buried under the multiculturalists’ program—a veritable “School of Resentment,” popu- lated by Marxists, feminists and other fellow travelers. The anxious defenders of the long-standing Western Canon come to rest on the notion that opening the Canon dilutes it. There simply isn’t enough time Joel Whitney is founding editor of Guernica: A Magazine of Art and Politics , and a member of the board of the Overseas Press Club of America. His writing and commentary have appeared in The New Republic, The Village Voice, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Paris Review, The Nation, Agni, New York and on NPR. In 2003, he was awarded a “Discovery” prize by the 92nd Street Y and The Nation for his poetry. THE GL • BAL CAN • N WORLD POLICY JOURNAL • FALL 2010 20 to read key parts of the Canon—even less after we include works merely for their multicultural values. Bloom, that pied piper of the Western Canon, was clearly wrong to see fidelity to the tradition of great writers as fundamentally incompat- ible with multiculturalism. It shows a deep misunderstanding (by this icon of western culture) of multiculturalism’s corrective impulses. It shows how much he misdiag- nosed the true threat....
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This note was uploaded on 02/01/2012 for the course POLS 494 taught by Professor Garymoncrief during the Fall '11 term at Boise State.

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f_0020467_17229 - © 2010 World Policy Institute 19 A...

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