In the first few pages of the book, Bloom highlights the importance of reading and studying literature and at the same time mentions one’s limitations about conducting this exercise. He writes, “The Biblical thee-score years and ten no longer suffice to read more than selection of the great writers in what can be called the Western tradition, let alone in all the word’s traditions. ”(Bloom, 1995, p. 17) The best of the literature, finds new perspectives with the passage of time. New interpretations are introduced; many additions to the old ones are done, as per the demands of the time.
The fable of the yesteryears becomes the reality of the day as for some characters in works of famous writers. They have the all-time appeal, as they transcend all secular limitations, and establish for themselves a unique place in the history of literature. Bloom dives deep in to the ocean of literature and tries to collect and introduce the pearls of wisdom to his readers. How did he achieve it and what were the implications? The re-examination of the world of literature afresh…
“Originally The Canon meant the choice of books in our teaching instructions, and despite the recent politics of multiculturalism, the Canon’s true question remains: What shall the individual who still desires to read attempt to read, this late history? ”(Bloom, p. 17) asks Bloom and seems to grope for the answer. He attempts to dive deep in to the ocean of literature Age-wise– the Autocratic Age, the Democratic Age, and the Chaotic Age. Any literature has time-value but there is a branch of ‘literature’ that transcends limitations of time. And more reading doesn’t mean more knowledge.
Why should anyone attempt to possess all knowledge? The limitations of human existence, prima-facie, negate such possibility, even if one intensely wishes! I am reminded of a real-life incident. The question asked to a candidate for a high-profile selection post, was “Who is the Finance Minister of Spain? ” Obviously the Interview Board Member was trying to corner the candidate. The bold candidate answered the question with a counter-question, “Sir, may I know from you who the Sports Minister of Nigeria is? I frankly say, that it is not necessary for me or anyone to acquire such superfluous general knowledge.
It has nothing to do with one’s efficiency or productivity related to work. ” What you do is not important; how you do what you do is important. Similarly, what you read is not important; how you read what you read is important-rather what you assimilate is the crux of the reading exercise. Presently, when the world is deeply impacted by the materialistic civilization, the industrial and internet revolution lays the real fear of the reading habit getting minimal- reading, just out of necessity and no more the soul pleasure!
Bloom’s sincere efforts to re-kindle the passion for reading as for authors like Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens, is laudable and it is the need of the time , to come out of the web of dreary and mechanical life. Having said that, he poses the well-meaning question related to the Canon, “What shall the individual who still desires to read attempt to read, this late in history? ” A maestro of Classical Music takes interviews for the prospective candidates for judging their potentiality as for the inborn musical talents.
He just asks them to sing a line or two, and he is able to judge their intrinsic worth. Bloom’s opinions about the quality of literature are somewhat similar. He is fascinated by the literary world created by Shakespeare. To him he is the be-all and end-all of the canon that he defines for the Western world, the standard by which one judges all literature. Bloom rightly opines that human mind has limitations as for acquiring the knowledge. When one transcends the mind-barrier it is altogether a different world and it is not possible to describe that state through verbal communications.
Because, it is the final stage of experiencing, this is beyond then realm of words. Shakespeare, according to Bloom is the master psychologist- he has tackled each type of psychological situations and given answers through his characters. It is therefore, not necessary to read the psychological texts with the hope of finding anything new, after having read Shakespeare. This holds well, according to Bloom, in the religious contest as well. Shakespeare’s understanding of the religious tenets is so perfect! But not so about spirituality, admits Bloom candidly!
An elegy for the Canon, Bloom does three types of classifications for the literature: The Autocratic Age, The Democratic Age and the Chaotic Age. Bloom makes rather the controversial statement that all great writing can end up sounding rather too similar. To select 26 authors of the vast multitude of literature should be a tough task for Bloom, but to the lucky ones in his team, he has rendered yeoman service. He has done a fine survey of classical literary traditions. Many have found it so rewarding to read these authors, in the light of the critical assessment done and fresh light thrown by Bloom.
He has made the flowers of literary taste bloom in the desert. (Those who were hitherto disinterested in classical literature) Two issues immensely influence any author. The influence of Nature and the influence of the works of other authors! This process can be termed as literary sparks generated out of friction. One idea gives rise to several ancillary ideas, sometimes more profound and brilliant than the original idea. Through the introduction to various authors, Bloom has succeeded in inspiring the readers as well and that created the chain reaction in them to read more and more.
The authors probably wrote one more book by such inspiration and the readers read another book! Both are the comparable processes of the literary genius latent in an individual. Therefore, those who have read the Western Canon of Bloom have admitted that it has been the most rewarding experience of their lives. No contradictions can be made as for Bloom’s observation about the impact of the materialistic civilization, ruthless competition, where moral boundaries are often violated and he asserts that such a process does destroy literary study in the name of socio-economic justice.
One who creates literature and the one who loves literature have peculiar types of hearts, which a normal secular individual would find it difficult to understand. Such literary giants may have to pass through derision and even opposition. And finally a stage of willing acceptance would not be far off. There are ample examples of such developments if one goes through the history of mankind over the last few centuries. Bloom is however is too much obsessed about Shakespeare. No doubt, he is brilliant among the brilliants, but Blooms overreacts as for the glory that Shakespeare was, is and will be!
Well, that is Bloom’s personal opinion, and one need not agree with it. An author writes true to his convictions. He doesn’t write to please someone. Reading Bloom’s book should be the beginning of the literary saga for any individual, not the end! It should never be! Conclusion: Bloom is a highly evolved individual, and he seems to have crossed the last hurdle of the mind-barrier. He has repeatedly knocked the portals of spirituality, but he has not entered it. He has, however, succeeded in taking certain potshots at it.
If he were to cross it, his perspective about the entire mass of literature, would have changed, and he would have understood the meaningfulness and meaningless of the literary classics. But from his intellectual level, he has given the best possible explanations and views about the Western Canon. ============= Works Cited: Bloom, Harold: Book: The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages: Paperback: 560 pages Publisher: Riverhead Trade; 1st Riverhead Ed edition (September 1, 1995) Language: English ISBN-10: 1573225142 ISBN-13: 978-1573225144
Courtney from Study Moose