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Western canon

Parents: Western culture - canon

Proponents of the Western canon: Harold Bloom

See also: list of novels that have been considered the greatest ever

Contrast with: nobrow - paraliterature


Western canon is a term used to describe a canon of books and art, and specifically a set with very loose boundaries of books and other art that, in general, have been most influential in shaping Western culture. The selection of a canon is important in educational perennialism.

The process of listmaking -- defining the boundaries of the canon -- is endless. One of the notable attempts in the English-speaking world was the Great Books of the Western World program that grew out of the curriculum at the University of Chicago developed in the middle third of the 20th century. University president Robert Hutchins and his collaborator Mortimer Adler developed a program that offered reading lists, books, and organizational strategies for reading clubs to the general public.

Starting in the 1960s, but growing considerably in the 1980s, classic books were attacked by various groups as being from "dead, white, Western men" and not representing the viewpoints of other people (i.e., most people in the world). These groups advocated inclusion/study of all literature, sometimes to the exclusion of literature ordinarily placed in the traditional Western canon; this practice has been called "rewriting the canon." This trend continues strong in most universities, but has waned somewhat in its influence in recent years.

Authors such as Yale Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom have spoken strongly in favor of the canon, and in general the canon remains as a represented idea in most institutions, though its implications continue to be debated heavily. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_canon [2004]

Sigmund Freud [...]

Psychoanalysis, Freud, and the "Western Canon"

[L]iterary historian Harold Bloom includes Freud in his opus The Western Canon on account of his being "the great mythmaker of our time, fit rival to Proust, Joyce, and Kafka as the canonical center of modern literature." Conceding that, as a therapy, "psychoanalysis is dying, perhaps already dead," Bloom contends that the canonical survival of Freud is linked with his "description of the totality of human nature." In his view, Freud "is the mind of our age, as Montaigne was the mind of Shakespeare's." --http://www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/psychoanalysis,6.html [Jun 2004]

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages - Harold Bloom

    The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages - Harold Bloom [Amazon.com]
    Discussed and debated, revered and reviled, Bloom's tome reinvigorates and re-examines Western Literature, arguing against the politicization of reading. His erudite passion will encourage you to hurry and finish his book so you can pick up Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens once again to rediscover their original magic. In addition, his appendix listing of the "future" canon - the books today that will be timeless tomorrow - is sure to be the template for future debate. --Amazon.com

    Cultural Capital : The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (1995) - John Guillory

    Cultural Capital : The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (1995) - John Guillory [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

    Book Description
    John Guillory challenges the most fundamental premises of the canon debate by resituating the problem of canon formation in an entirely new theoretical framework. The result is a book that promises to recast not only the debate about the literary curriculum but also the controversy over "multiculturalism" and the current "crisis of the humanities." Employing concepts drawn from Pierre Bourdieu's sociology, Guillory argues that canon formation must be understood less as a question of the representation of social groups than as a question of the distribution of "cultural capital" in the schools, which regulate access to literacy, to the practices of reading and writing.

    See also: culture - capital - canon - culture theory - humanities - literary theory

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