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Thread: The other "Canon"

  1. #31
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Etienne- "I was not even thinking of the philosophical scope of Boethius' work but of the literary one, since this list was obviously not a philosophical one, however, even on the philosophical level I would think twice before placing Aquinas over Boethius, considering that his influence of his work goes on up to the 12th century as a central part of European philosophy. The Consolation of Philosophy has often been considered the single most important work of European Literature."

    Obviously this is debatable. Looking on the list of the 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written from the book of the same title by Martin Seymour-Smith one finds Boethius again slighted, while there are numerous other books that are also excluded from Bloom's "canon": Elements- Euclid, Allegorical Expositions of the Holy Laws-Philo of Alexandria,
    Annals, from the Death of the Divine Augustus-Cornelius Tacitus,
    Meditations-Marcus Aurelius, Outlines of Pyrrhonism-Sextus Empiricus, Guide for the Perplexed-Moses Maimonides, The Kabbalah, Summa Theologicae-Thomas Aquinas, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church-Martin Luther, Institutes of the Christian Religion-John Calvin, On the Revolution of the Celestial Orbs- Nicolaus Copernicus, The Harmony of the World- Johannes Kepler, Novum Organum- Francis Bacon, Works-Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Ethics- Baruch de Spinoza, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy-Isaac Newton, The Encyclopedia- Denis Diderot, ed., A Dictionary of the English Language- Samuel Johnson, etc...

    Bloom admits that his criteria is essentially aesthetic and that he has left of many important books of philosophical, scientific, and historical interest that are not, in his opinion, of great aesthetic merit. he also admits that he has excluded many Greek and Latin texts of real merit as they are probably outside of the reading scope of all but specialists. As JBI and I have suggested before Bloom has simply provided a list (in a mere appendix that was part of a larger work of essays upon major "canonical" writers) that provides what may be the most complete canon of Western literature for the English-language audience. Undoubtedly the list has its flaws. There are books that I think are glaring omissions and others whose inclusion I question. Undoubtedly it is also Anglo-centric... but no less so than a similar list compiled by a University department in France or Germany would favor French or German-language literature. It is also, as I have noted before, out of necessity. The truly interested reader can easily... even through the use of the internet... scope out a far more in-depth list of French, German, Spanish, or Italian literature... but to what avail? Without a mastery of these languages it is next to impossible to experience writers such as Sully Prudhomme, Alfred Victor de Vigny, Leconte de Lisle, José María de Heredia, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Rosalía de Castro, José de Espronceda, Diego Hurtado de Mendoza, Íñigo López de Mendoza, etc... Undoubtedly many of these writers are equal to such English-language figures as Thomas Wyatt, Sir Walter Raleigh, Andrew Marvell, etc... but without an access to the language only the most central canonical figures can be experienced: Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hugo, Cervantes, Lorca, Machado, San Juan de la Cruz, etc... Hell... it hasn't been until just recently that there has even been a decent translation available of a figure as central to Spanish literature as Gongora. Anyway... why are we once again disputing what is and is not part of the Western Canon in a thread directed specifically at the Eastern Canon? I guess it proves my initial supposition that we are all quite ethnocentric as illustrated by our ignorance of an entire universe outside of our own.
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  2. #32
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    By the way... I'm doing my part... however small it may be... to rectify my own ignorance. I'm reading Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching. It seems to have earned solid reviews... and I have been quite pleased with other Mitchell translations.
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  3. #33
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    I am currently reading a good deal of Asian poetry... and focusing upon Japanese at the present. As I've read a bit in anthologies and on-line I am surprised to discover how poorly represented Japanese poetry is. One can only readily find English translations of a few Japanese poets. Beside late 19th and 20th century poets such as Masaoka Shiki and Yosano Akiko the only anthologies of poetry by Japanese poets are those of Haiku masters such as Kobayashi Issa, Yosa Buson, and Matsuo Bashō are readily available... with the exception of a volume of poetry by the two women poets of the "classical" Heian era, Onono Komachi and Izumi Shikibu. Haiku, it seems, is often what is first thought of as the stereotypical Japanese poetry... and it is what is fashionable most in Western translation. Kenneth Rexroth, among others, suggest that for all the merit of the great haiku poets, neither they... nor the poetry of that era are anywhere near the finest examples of Japanese poetry. Indeed, Rexroth suggests haiku is largely a decadent style... and another writer on line notes that haiku actually grew out of a poetic form known as renga, which itself evolved as a result of the ossification of the earlier tanka, and involved linking verses by two or more poets in a manner not unlike the exquisite corpse of Surrealism. The initial poet would provide 3 lines of 5, 7, and 5 sylables, and the next poet would add another two lines... each of 7 syllables. This collaborative improvisation could extend to hundreds of lines... but eventually the initial 5-7-5 became a form in and of itself.

    Anyway... little is to be found outside anthologies of multiple poets of earlier "classical" poetry... this in spite of the fact that figures such as Yomabe No Akahito, Kakinomoto No Hitomoro, Izumi Shikibu, Onono Komachi, Lady Ise, and numerous others... including the so-called "36 Immortal Poets" are considered to be the greatest figures of Japanese poetry.

    As I have been reading Rexroth's collection of Japanese poetry I have been struck by the great intensity and compression of the work... the focus or isolation of concern upon what Ezra Pound terms "the luminous details"... the focus upon a single image as opposed to any suggestion of narrative or drawn out discourse. In a way, Japanese poetry reminds me of little else than perhaps some early Greek lyrical poetry (Sapho and the Anthology), Imagist poetry, some Symbolist work... especially Mallarme... and Rilke's "thing poems" (dinggedichte) of such collections as The Book of Images and New Poems.

    Among some of the Japanese poems that struck me I will include a few:

    I wish I were close
    To you as the wet skirt of
    A salt girl to her body.
    I think of you always.

    -Yomabe No Akahito

    In a gust of wind the white dew
    On the autumn grass
    Scatters like a broken necklace.

    -Bunya No Asayasu

    In the empty mountains
    The leaves of the bamboo grass
    Rustle in the wind.
    I think of a girl
    Who is not here.

    -Kakinomoto No Hitomaro

    Of course these exquisite, delicate images were given even further impact by the manner in which they were rendered in the most graceful of calligraphy and often illuminated with a spontaneous or improvisational painted imagery as well:



    One of the most marvelous examples must be found in the collaboartive efforts of the calligrapher Hon'ami Koetsu and painter Tawaraya Sōtatsu illuminating a collection of poetry by various poets:

    http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/exhi...oll/enter.asp#

    This interactive site allows you to scroll through the work, gives translations of the poetry and close-ups of the art.

    Another great site I have found is here:

    http://www.temcauley.staff.shef.ac.u...oduction.shtml

    This site offers a huge collection of Japanese poetry given in the original Japanese/Chinese characters, in Romaji text (in which the Japanese pronunciations are written out in the Western/Latin letters) and then an English translation. The site has quite an extensive collection of poetry from the major Japanese anthologies.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  4. #34
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    StLukes, you may find this book interesting:
    http://www.amazon.com/Traditional-Ja...9296988&sr=8-1
    I recently grabbed a copy from my library and am finding it (I am about half way through) quite enjoyable. the extensive notes on periods, publications, and poets, in addition to extensive footnotes, and a rōmaji rendering of the poems to allow the reader to experience somewhat of the feel of the original.

    This, to me, is the most definitive works of classical Japanese poetry available I can find. I'm unsure if it is worth $30, but if you can get a copy from the library, it is very well worth looking into.
    Last edited by JBI; 08-21-2008 at 01:43 AM.

  5. #35
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Also, this book may be of interest to you;
    http://www.amazon.com/Loom-Time-Sele...9297647&sr=1-1
    It's a nice collection of works by Kalidasa (I am unable to find a thicker, more inclusive book of this masterpoet's works). Inside are one play, and two long poems. The notes and introductions as well are quite extensive and informative (spanning 90 pages) and provide a nice background and scholarly aspect to the book.

  6. #36
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    JBI... Yes, I have the Traditional Japanese Poetry on my wish list. The list price doesn't seem at all outrageous considering the size of the book and the fact that most volumes of poetry in translation run $10-15 for 100 pages or a bit more. I've added Kalidasa to my wish list. Thanks for the tip.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  7. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by Petrarch's Love View Post
    ah for world enough and time.
    Too true.

    All of this thread has made very interesting reading in itself, though perhaps only highlighting how far behind I am in my reading. Of course that means there is a world still yet to discover.

    “Wisest is he who knows he does not know” as Socrates said, or is said to have said.

  8. #38
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Bump!
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  9. #39
    The Ghost of Laszlo Jamf islandclimber's Avatar
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    thanks!

    I'm interested in seeing if anyone on the forum knows much about African Literature... I see lots about Far Eastern Lit (Japanese, Chinese, etc)... and also India has surged to a certain extent in the West recently, and then Latin America as well... but it seems there is an enormous body of work in Africa waiting to be discovered... I guess the same could be said for much of the Middle East, as it has for the most part been largely ignored by the west as well...

    I've wondered too, if there are certain tendencies, lifestyles, ideas, philosophies, psychologies, stylistic differences, etc. that make it hard, even in translation, for Westerners to identify with Literature from some areas of the world? any thoughts on this?

  10. #40
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Again, I think that questions of lifestyles, philosophies, religion, etc... have little to do with our exposure to the literature of other cultures. Certainly most cultures will be largely centered in their own traditions and in the US this has largely meant absorbing or even co-opting the traditions of Europe... especially Britain. But even that is but to a limited extent. Really it is the access to translations... good translations... that is the key. We may have a limited access to African, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Persian literature in the US... but in reality we don't do much better with regard to Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Dannish, Swedish, Finnish, Belgian, Dutch, etc... The reality is that it is far more likely that an American or British academic or writer will be well versed in French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian... or the "classic" Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Obviously when one is attracted to learning a second language consideration must include "getting the most bang for the buck". Thus issues of military, economic, and cultural prominence come into play. It makes more sense to learn Japanese or Italian considering their economic and/or cultural importance than it does to learn Hungarian. Consequently, as there are far more academics/writers fluent in a given language it is far more likely that we will be blessed with competent translations of literature in those languages.

    Of course things change. I'd almost guess that in the 19th century there were few translations of Russian literature available in English. As Russia/the Soviet Union rose to prominence, the language became a necessity. The same has happened with Japan (I have more Japanese literature by far than Dutch/Belgian. Am I to believe that the culture that produced Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Vermeer, Hals, Van Gogh, even Mondrian produced no literature of any lasting merit?). It is currently happening with China and Arabic literature. There is perhaps something of a realization that in both instances it is something of a liability to remain ignorant of these cultures and their language.

    I would suggest that Spanish is far more central to America than it is to Canada or Britain due to our borders and relationships with Central and South America. Undoubtedly French is far more important to our neighbors to the North (JBI?) and perhaps even Britain. I know that my collection of Spanish writers rivals that of French and German which are surely the largest after English. I definitely come upon translation of Spanish works written in the last 50 years far more often than I come upon German or French literature from the same period.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  11. #41
    Registered User kratsayra's Avatar
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    As Stlukes says, translation and availability is a real problem for many books from Africa, especially in the United States. Publication has to do with demand, though, so for whatever reason, there is not much demand. However, if more people knew about the books, perhaps there would be greater demand . . . it's an endless cycle.

    I taught a course on African lit a few years ago, and I was severely limited by what my students would be able to purchase and what the bookstore could order. There are some ways around that, but in the end, you primarily need to be able to put books on a syllabus that students can actually get ahold of without breaking copyright law.

    Despite all of France's problems with those from its former colonies, it is not all that difficult to find books from Africa in French on shelves of many bookstores there. There are also a few publishers that have their roots in the first writings in French from Africa like Presence Africaine, and they still offer a wonderful selection. Unfortunately, only the most well known of these books are available in English translation, and of those, most of them are out of print.

    There is one major publisher of African lit in English - Heinemann's African Writer's series. They have a decent selection, but they are based in the UK, which can make getting the books for courses in the US a bit difficult (in my experience with the course I taught). A lot of books they have published in the past are also now out of print.

    Luckily, with writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, some African writers are becoming easily available on shelves of American bookstores. I hope this leads to increased interest. But who knows. Is there some fundamental difference in style or culture that leads Americans to be uninterested in purchasing African lit? I hope not! Is it some kind of prejudice? I am hoping it is simply lack of knowledge and nowhere to start. But I really don't know.

    And sorry to sound Amero-centric, it is simply that I don't know much about the reception of African literature in any other countries besides France.
    Last edited by kratsayra; 07-12-2009 at 06:06 PM.

  12. #42
    The Ghost of Laszlo Jamf islandclimber's Avatar
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    what's strange though I find, is that many writers in Africa are writing in English, French, etc. ie. common languages that either don't really need to be translated or are commonly translated at least in the case of the Nation that language belongs to (French for France, Portuguese for Portugal, etc..)

    I agree with though in the case of Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian nations, and many other not so common languages from less prominent countries in the world.. not many would learn the languages and to translate must be quite a lot of work... as well, how interested do you think large publishing houses are in translating work from these languages?

    Spanish is undoubtedly far more central to America than to Canada.. I'm from Canada as well... although Western Canada (where I live), I would suggest Asian languages and cultures are far more prevalent and important now than French... Sadly enough I know very little about French Canadien writers, and rarely see translations as I don't speak french...

    I think a large number of latin american writers are still skipped over in terms of translation though.. I find the large majority of those translated must be near the Magical Realism school of Marquez and Cortazar to be translated... it is still hard to find good translations of writers such as Llosa, Fuentes, Basto, De Assis, etc... they are out there, but hard to find... and then if you want to go back into 19th century Spanish Lit it is almost impossible to find translations and I can't see that as being due to lack of good writers? Sarmiento, Isaac, Da Cunha, Unamuno and the rest of the Generation of '98??

    but yes, I rarely see translations of contemporary French and German writers.. why do you think this is?

  13. #43
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    Of course the issue of interest is directly connected with learning another language. In the US it is far more likely that one will be interested in a major Western European culture or in Russia, China, India, Japan, or even the Middle East when one considers the cultural roots of the population and the major economic/political/social/cultural powers.

    I am surprised at the difficulty in finding Latin-America translations in Canada... but perhaps it is an American advantage considering our borders, large Latin-American population and Hispanic history. Among my own library ignoring the major figures such as Borges, Cortazar, Gabriel-Marquez, etc... I still have volumes by San Juan de La Cruz, Calderon, Jimemez, Unamuno, Vinciente Aleixandre, Rafael Alberti, Jorge Guillen, Ramon Perez de Ayala, Alvaro Cunquiero, Gonzalo Torrente Ballister, Sor Juana Inez, Francesco Ayala, Jose Donoso, Cesay Vallejo, Alejo Carpentier, Machado de Assis, Carlos Fuentes, Augusto Monterroso, Mario Vargas Llosa, Homero Aridjis, Miguel Hernandez, etc...
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  14. #44
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    I rarely see translations of contemporary French and German writers.

    I agree here. I have but a few French: Jean Giono, Duras, Perec, Rio, Robbe-Grillet, Michel Tournier, Maurice Blanchot, Henri Michaux. My contemporary German is just as slim... especially if I eliminate Gunter Grass. All that remains are a few slim volumes by Eich, Krolow, Paul Celan, Michael Kruger, Max Frisch, Friederich Durrenmatt, Heinrich Boll, Hans Magnus Enzenberger, and Ingeborg Bachmann. Quite pathetic... especially considering that my own cultural heritage is German.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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  15. #45
    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Depends - essentially every book you can get in the US you can get in Canada, in one way or another - Amazon ships for essentially the same price to both countries, and book stores (that is, big ones) essentially carry the same stock, with the exception of perhaps a small shelf of Canadian fiction, and if you are lucky (which is very, very rare for book stores that don't cater to academic readerships) a Canadian poetry rack. French Canadian works are hard to come by, but luckily, there are some translations available, and if you live close to a major library, or university library, they should be there (where abouts in the West are you? I know UBC has an excellent collection of Canadian works (and an excellent Canadian lit program) and the University of Calgary and University of Alberta both have strong grounding in Canadian literature in both languages), but yes, in the average book store, it is hard to find stuff - in general it is hard to find stuff.

    The Latin American translations are actually more easily findable than French Canadian literature, as it seems to be catchy - of course, it's mostly the big names that make the shelves, but if you know where to look you can find stuff. I think the Area-Studies departments in Canadian universities are just as strong and large as American ones, so generally that pulls in texts from everywhere to University Bookstores and libraries. I know, for instance, that in certain book stores in Toronto, if they don't have the book, the staff are very nice, and will get you a copy quickly, if one exists.

    The internet too has done wonders, but on the whole, it's the limit of quality translations that I see as the major problem - I've read like 50 translations of Lao Zi's Dao De Jing, with each one seeming to add different pseudo-philosophy in different places, that I don't think really exists within the original (there is a link on the Wikipedia article to a site that lists links to a series of them - just flip through the first few verses to see what I mean). The general attitude until recently, I can't help but find, in terms of translation, was an aestheticized appropriation, rather than a fully realized attempt to render them within their own cultural context.

    There is more Ezra Pound in Pound's Cathay, arguably, than there is Li Bai, more Bynner than Chinese poets, and more Western than Eastern.

    I think the problem is that these translations aren't really brought forward as cultural specimens, but rather commercial ones, and as such, the verse ends up taking on a different shape. I can't really compare, for instance, Japanese poetry, as I know less about Japanese than Chinese (I've only cross referenced a few poems with their originals) but the great bulk of stuff I find seems to akin to Alexander Pope's rendition of Homer - perhaps entertaining, though not quite Homer.


    Here's my question though - do you consider Canada part of the Western tradition - I personally don't consider contemporary Canadian work part of the West - Atwood is clearly Western, but I don't see anything particularly Western About Alice Munro for example. It seems the bulk of Canadian authors are generally either building on the Canadian mythology (the themes, essentially minus the biblical and cartological ones of Frye and Atwood), various indigenous motifs, and ultimately various other ethnic things carried over. Are we, for instance, to call Austin Clarke a Western Author - he is from Barbados, but I don't think he is particularly "Western". The Bible doesn't seem to really be his "Great Code".

    Likewise, the bulk of Canadian literature, at least the good stuff, seems to be written by ex-centrics, and not to really fit properly into European or American models - there are as many people using Chinese culture as their ground work as there are using European culture, or Indian culture.

    But I think here, in terms of canon, one generally needs to break down things country by country. Perhaps there is some consistency with Silk-Road bordering countries, and the spread of Buddhism seems to have created some sort of unity that, though not completely like Christianity, could be described as creating a solidity - but when you start to whack away, you realize that even a Western Canon seems ridiculous - there are as many borrowed cultural concepts as there are idiosyncratic ones, in terms of Russian literature.

    Pushkin may have modeled Onegin on Byron, but there are still the loads of tales - in verse and prose, long and short, that deal with folk-tale stuff that seem outside of the realm of Western literature there - perhaps Dostoevsky and Tolstoy were writing Westernized texts, but there is still that underlying difference that is rooted in the culture (though perhaps less so than in Pushkin).


    Likewise, Italian poetry doesn't read like English poetry - it has a very different sort of feel to it. Tasso's short lyrics are very, very different than, for instance, Ben Jonson's - his sense of lyric imagery, which is based on his own tradition, seems very different.

    To really understand a cultural tradition then, it takes much, much work, and an availability of texts.

    The only way to really get most Chinese texts, for example, is to be near a major library, or have a very, very big wallet. One is less likely to find a copy of Water Margin (I am yet to actually find one) than almost any Dickens book. Perhaps we can blame the whole construct of the system - Penguin seems to be where everyone turns for classics - sure there are Oxford classics, and a few others, but ultimately, they are all printing almost the same books. With the exception of a few works from each culture, most of which not as frequently printed, the scope of available books, because of the lack of profit in printing them, seems rather slim.

    There is nothing these publishers like more, than buying a cheap old translation, or printing an English language book - it's essentially a win-win - they don't need to pay royalties, only perhaps a few bucks for an introduction and some footnotes. The only place to really turn for these then, it seems, are either 100 page mediocre translations, like those by Rexroth, who puts more of himself than the actual material into the text, or to university printed ones, which never make the shelves, and are only available in libraries. Tough luck I guess, though perhaps things will change in the future.

    Then again, it's not as if many cultures receive that privilege either - I'm actually curious as to what other countries' book shelves look like.
    Last edited by JBI; 07-12-2009 at 06:45 PM.

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