RARA-AVIS: Re: "The Canon"?

From: jacquesdebierue (jacquesdebierue@yahoo.com)
Date: 28 Feb 2009

  • Next message: Gonzalo Baeza: "RARA-AVIS: Re: "The Canon"?"

    --- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, "Mark D. Nevins" <nevins_mark@...> wrote:

    > To put things in the most essential perspective, you're right, MRT,
    it doesn't matter. When we live on a planet where a large number of our fellow humans are literally starving to death or living under extreme oppression, no, it really doesn't matter what anyone reads.

    Well, book are books and life is life.
    > That being said, if one is as lucky and priviled as I assume most
    RARA AVIANS are, and one wants to partake of the greatest human thoughts ever recorded, one should want to read the Bible, the works of Homer and Shakespeare, etc. etc. If for no other reason than these writers and the other "great books" have literally shaped the entire discourse of western thought.<<

    To some degree, yes. But many great books are notable for the fact that people have followed their advice backwards...

    <<There is a great conversation that begins with the Greeks, and travels up through the Enlightenment, and forms the entire basis of modern democratic society.>>

    Well, political systems are an entirely different matter from what we're discussing. I doubt that we are on a great path of progress. Consider that we define progress ourselves, and that's cheating, wouldn't you say?

    <<You can ignore it if you want to, but up until the "canon wars" of the 1980's, all educated people, even mildly educated ones, read these texts.>>

    And? The purpose of reading, one of the purposes, is to achieve some understanding of realities that we do not experience ourselves? In that department, I don't think all that reading has done much good. Out of that came one of the most selfish and reckless generations ever....

    <<It remains to be seen if the world will be a better place now that schools no longer teach these texts.>>

    But they do. That is what they teach, mainly. The same old books. Good books, some are great books, but there is hardly a lot of new blood...

    <<(In order to head off criticism that my position is somehow culturally hegemonic, I'd also suggest that an intelligent person should also be interested in non-Western texts--one of my own
    > interests is the African novel--but to be fair those texts, for
    good or for bad, were not a part of the "great conversation" that forms the basis of the dominant culture of the last several hundred years.)>>

    There are many conversations going on at the same time. Man with himself, man with his local milieu, man with whatever regime he suffers, man with the universe, man with nature, etc. It is not one conversation but many.
    <<More to the point of this particular discussion group, spending time reading Plato and Rousseau and J.S. Mill and George Eliot and yes Austen (a writer with an admittedly limited scope but one who essentially created an ironic manner of addressing social conventions which has deeply influenced modern culture from the novel to the sitcom) doesn't mean that one can't also read Hammett, Thompson, and Bruen.>>

    Mill could be read with much profit. Missing out on Austen (i.e., not being forced but still free to read her) would not be so terrible.

    <<I'm not at all arguing for a canon (and I have no idea how poor Harold Bloom got dragged in here as a straw-man), I am just saying that one doesn't need to choose, and that choosing not to read "the classics" seems to me to be choosing to cut oneself off from what is essentially the central nervous system of our civilization.>>

    Harold Bloom didn't get dragged. He was one of the most vociferous proponents of the Great Books. He also thought that the present generation is more illiterate than his own, when the opposite is transparently the case. Not reading or caring about Jane Austen is not to be an illiterate. People read all kinds of things.

    <<But, please, much as I love Goodis, I can't take seriously an argument that says that reading Goodis or McCarthy is somehow a substitute for reading Shakespeare or Homer. Why not read all of them, and dabble widely?>>

    Everything is fine, but you forgot to say _why_ you can't take it seriously.

    > Mark Nevins
    > Who wonders if the occasional anti-academic tone on this List is
    symptomatic of something even deeper . . .

    This is not anti-academic, it's about a particular idea of what the Great Books are and whether they should be the main course for students. This has direct connections to our genre and to other genres. Bradbury instead of Austen, now that would be cool.



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