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Thread: How did Harold Bloom rise to such a level of eminence?

  1. #31
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Bloom's canon clearly supports elitist principles. Familiarity with the "canon" provides entree into certain social circles. There's nothing wrong with this, in a way. All those Cambridge and Oxford men familiar with the "Western Canon" (in the good old days, that meant Homer, Virgil and the other Classics, not modern literature) could identify each other by such familiarity, and could seek the company of those with similar educations (and class backgrounds) as those they had enjoyed themselves.

    Back in 19th Century England (if the novels I've read have informed me correctly), Greek and Latin classics were mandatory at Oxford, Cambridge, and Eton. Byron, Shelley, Austen (and to a lesser extent Shakespeare) were light, leisure reading. I somehow feel that discovering Blake or Keats in one's rooms at Winchester, and seeing such a discovery as a secret pleasure, gave the young scholars a thrill that assigning those texts in school does not.

    Perhaps I'm prejudiced. I read constantly as a teenager, but hated the assigned readings from school. I'll grant that this was probably mere contrariness. I had good taste in literature: I loved Lord of the Rings, Huckleberry Finn, Orlando Furiosso, Kidnapped, and a great many other novels that I continue to think excellent). I have read most of the assigned novels I disliked as a teenager, and some are very good. Nonetheless, I don't think "Moby Dick" would appeal to many 15-year-olds. They read it as a duty (personally, I felt it was my duty to avoid reading it. I thought that a C+ on a pop-quiz about a chapter one HADN'T read demonstrated superior intelligence to an A on a chapter one had.)

    I know I'm merely rambling (lest anyone think I'm attempting a cogent argument), and I defer to Orphan Pip and any other educators (especially high school teachers) for their opinions. What is the best way to teach English Literature in High School (years 9-12, prior to University)? Does the notion that the "canon" is clearly elitist (in the ways I mentioned before) turn off some students? Do high school teachers still run on about "character development" (which may have been a sort of post-Freudian fad back 4 decades ago when I was in high school)? Why did I (who discussed novels continuously with my friends and brothers) find English Literature classes in high school so intolerable?

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    So you aren't really teaching in Kuala Lumper. I'd be hard put to think of many significant contributions to English literature that emanated from a non-English speaking area. (Yeah I know about India but that is an exception and the majority of its literature is not English anyway) If it is in Canada you are teaching then your point is entirely coherent.

  3. #33
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ennison View Post
    So you aren't really teaching in Kuala Lumper. I'd be hard put to think of many significant contributions to English literature that emanated from a non-English speaking area. (Yeah I know about India but that is an exception and the majority of its literature is not English anyway) If it is in Canada you are teaching then your point is entirely coherent.
    I haven't updated my location in a while, I moved back from Asia 3 years ago.
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  4. #34
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    And If I recall correctly, Bloom does not have Rosa in his World Canon, which implies Bloom is not familiar with the World and with the Canon.
    #foratemer

  5. #35
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Bloom's canon clearly supports elitist principles. Familiarity with the "canon" provides entree into certain social circles. There's nothing wrong with this, in a way. All those Cambridge and Oxford men familiar with the "Western Canon" (in the good old days, that meant Homer, Virgil and the other Classics, not modern literature) could identify each other by such familiarity, and could seek the company of those with similar educations (and class backgrounds) as those they had enjoyed themselves.

    Back in 19th Century England (if the novels I've read have informed me correctly), Greek and Latin classics were mandatory at Oxford, Cambridge, and Eton. Byron, Shelley, Austen (and to a lesser extent Shakespeare) were light, leisure reading. I somehow feel that discovering Blake or Keats in one's rooms at Winchester, and seeing such a discovery as a secret pleasure, gave the young scholars a thrill that assigning those texts in school does not.

    Perhaps I'm prejudiced. I read constantly as a teenager, but hated the assigned readings from school. I'll grant that this was probably mere contrariness. I had good taste in literature: I loved Lord of the Rings, Huckleberry Finn, Orlando Furiosso, Kidnapped, and a great many other novels that I continue to think excellent). I have read most of the assigned novels I disliked as a teenager, and some are very good. Nonetheless, I don't think "Moby Dick" would appeal to many 15-year-olds. They read it as a duty (personally, I felt it was my duty to avoid reading it. I thought that a C+ on a pop-quiz about a chapter one HADN'T read demonstrated superior intelligence to an A on a chapter one had.)

    I know I'm merely rambling (lest anyone think I'm attempting a cogent argument), and I defer to Orphan Pip and any other educators (especially high school teachers) for their opinions. What is the best way to teach English Literature in High School (years 9-12, prior to University)? Does the notion that the "canon" is clearly elitist (in the ways I mentioned before) turn off some students? Do high school teachers still run on about "character development" (which may have been a sort of post-Freudian fad back 4 decades ago when I was in high school)? Why did I (who discussed novels continuously with my friends and brothers) find English Literature classes in high school so intolerable?
    I think Moby does not appeal to many addults either. But then, how many find physics appealing? Or biology? Or maths? But that prevent us from flat earth....
    #foratemer

  6. #36
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    I think Moby does not appeal to many addults either. But then, how many find physics appealing? Or biology? Or maths? But that prevent us from flat earth....
    That's a good point. However, let us posit some 15-year-old kid who is fascinated with physics. He studies it on his own. He reads physics journals. But, somehow, physics class in high school bores him, and this antipathy prevents him from studying physics further. Wouldn't that be a problem? Shouldn't schools foster enthusiasm in those already enthusiastic?

    What is the point of studying literature in high school? I'm not a professional educator (and, again, I'd appreciate their feedback) but I'd suggest:

    1) English classes promote basic reading skills and literacy.

    2) Literature classes promote writing skills. Writing well is not only important in many fields, but it also promotes precision and accuracy of thought (just as math classes promote and develop logical thinking, even if the students will never prove geometry theorems once they graduate).

    3) Literature classes can provide students with the skills and knowledge that they need in order to develop life-long love of literature. I'll grant that many students who already have basic literacy need help learning to read poetry (or Shakespeare's plays).

    4) Literature classes should promote basic cultural literacy. Kids who graduate from high school should know who Romeo and Juliet are, and should be aware of Homer and Tolstoy. That's one point of the "canon"; it creates common ground from a cultural, moral, and aesthetic perspective. Perhaps the Bible is the most essential Western canonical book in this regard (and it is never taught in U.S. schools).

    I think #1 and #2 are the most important goals of English class. But #3 and 4 are important as well. The question is: how can they be most effectively realized?

  7. #37
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    One more point:

    If English Lit. classes are designed to teach writing skills, shouldn't students who are expected to write critical essays read critical essays? Back when I went to school, we wrote critical essays and read novels, short stories, poems and plays. Since we were never expected to write novels, short stories, poems or plays, this seems misguided.

  8. #38
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Decolonizing a classroom is not simply about cutting out white European males.
    Correct me if I'm wrong, OP, but I believe your use of "white European males" refers to race (and of course sex) rather than location or national belonging. In other words, you are talking about males whose ancestors (at least some of them) were Europeans. If your decolonization project "is not simply about" exclusion based on race and sex, it follows that it is also about those things. I have some questions.

    Will you be excluding male authors with DNA from the English and French colonists of Canada? In light of China's aggressive imperialist policies (in Africa, for example), will you be excluding male Chinese authors too? Will that include Chinese males from Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere in the considerable Chinese diaspora? How about "white Europeans" (ethnically speaking) from former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in South or Central America? These are not rhetorical questions. Please answer them.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; Yesterday at 11:55 AM.
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  9. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong, OP, but I believe your use of "white European males" refers to race (and of course sex) rather than location or national belonging. In other words, you are talking about males whose ancestors (at least some of them) were Europeans. If your decolonization project "is not simply about" exclusion based on race and sex, it follows that it is also about those things. I have some questions.

    Will you be excluding male authors with DNA from the English and French colonists of Canada? In light of China's aggressive imperialist policies (in Africa, for example), will you be excluding male Chinese authors too? Will that include Chinese males from Taiwan, Singapore, Canada, the United States, and elsewhere in the considerable Chinese diaspora? How about "white Europeans" (ethnically speaking) from former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in South or Central America? These are not rhetorical questions. Please answer them.
    I was using the language of the post I replied to. I don't think it is about exclusion, of course cutting is necessary when we have limited space in a curriculum, but about making room for marginalized voices. I think you omitted the part where I also spoke about my research being focused primarily on Defoe. Of course in a Canadian context the inclusion of First Nations writers is usually a primary concern for us as educators.

    Edit: Note that in the same post I gave the example of teaching writing by a black author, Equiano, alongside white eighteenth-century authors.
    Last edited by OrphanPip; Yesterday at 03:25 PM.
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  10. #40
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I don't think it is about exclusion, of course cutting is necessary when we have limited space in a curriculum, but about making room for marginalized voices.
    With all due respect, OP, how dumb do you think I am? "Cutting" anyone on the basis of a race/sex victimology (even glucosed as "making room for marginalized voices") is the same thing as excluding them because of race or sex. Of course there are legitimate criteria for not using a given author based on the needs of a particular class (we're already doing Dickens so let's spare them Trollope), but you're just using that to further an ideology that has nothing to do with teaching the humanities (and which I would argue is toxic to it). Reducing individuals (including individual writers) to paradigms of racial and sexual identity groups bullying one other in and out of the margins cheapens what it means to be a human capable of liberality. You will find there is room for all of us.

    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I think you omitted the part where I also spoke about my research being focused primarily on Defoe.
    True. I didn't mention your research because I was not directing my comments at you personally but at the moral flaws in "decolonizing" a classroom through excluding writers on the basis of sex and race. You, as I remember, are completely cool. Good luck with your research. Defoe was a bit of a pisser but at least had the courage to go against the grain.

    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Of course in a Canadian context the inclusion of First Nations writers is usually a primary concern for us as educators.
    It sounds interesting. Will you be including accounts of first contact by Jesuit missionaries (who were, by and large, savaged by them)? Nothing like a little historical context.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; Yesterday at 04:10 PM.
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  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    With all due respect, OP, how dumb do you think I am? "Cutting" anyone on the basis of a race/sex victimology (even glucosed as "making room for marginalized voices") is the same thing as excluding them because of race or sex.
    I think there's a substantial difference. If you approach the process of choosing the text with the goal that the course material be diverse and relevant not only to the interest of the students but also to the current state of scholarship in the field. Why are you assuming certain texts have an a priori position within the curriculum and that not choosing them for a course list is cutting them on the basis of race.

    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    Of course there are legitimate criteria for not using a given author based on the needs of a particular class (we're already doing Dickens so let's spare them Trollope), but you're just using that to further an ideology that has nothing to do with teaching the humanities (and which I would argue is toxic to it). Reducing individuals (including individual writers) to paradigms of racial and sexual identity groups bullying one other in and out of the margins cheapens what it means to be a human capable of liberality. You will find there is room for all of us.
    It's not a matter of reducing individuals to particular categories. Race and sexuality are topics of literature whether written by white people or by straight people. If you want to have a discussion about the construction of race in the 18th century it only makes sense to include the voices of racialized writers in the discussion.


    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    True. I didn't mention your research because I was not directing my comments at you personally but at the moral flaws in "decolonizing" a classroom through excluding writers on the basis of sex and race.
    Again it can just as easily be thought of as including authors who have previously been excluded into a discussion. Why was their exclusion legitimate but swapping them into current discussions is illegitimate?
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  12. #42
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    I think there's a substantial difference. If you approach the process of choosing the text with the goal that the course material be diverse and relevant not only to the interest of the students but also to the current state of scholarship in the field.
    I don't see how silencing voices promotes diversity, but I am speaking of diversity of thought. Perhaps you are referring to racialist diversity. I have no respect for the concept nor is it axiomatic that I should. You have a better point with current scholarship, as odious as it is. Students seeking graduate work will need to know about it, if only to put an end to the racist claptrap. The times they are achangin'.

    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Why are you assuming certain texts have an a priori position within the curriculum
    Perhaps you could show me where I claimed that "certain texts have an a priori position within the curriculum". I am almost certain I said it depends "on the needs of a particular class". And even that's not a priori knowledge.

    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    and that not choosing them for a course list is cutting them on the basis of race.
    Well, that's not something I need to assume since you've already told me decolonizing the classroom requires (among other things) "cutting out white European males".

    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    If you want to have a discussion about the construction of race in the 18th century it only makes sense to include the voices of racialized writers in the discussion.
    Why would I want to have such a discussion with those who play by self-evidently racist rules? That would be a mug's game indeed.

    Quote Originally Posted by OrphanPip View Post
    Again it can just as easily be thought of as including authors who have previously been excluded into a discussion. Why was their exclusion legitimate but swapping them into current discussions is illegitimate?
    Both were and continue to be wrong (to the extent that "swapping them" means excluding voices on the basis of sex and race).
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; Yesterday at 09:15 PM.
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  13. #43
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    It seems to me that the "cult of the author" is called into question by Pompey and Orphan's discussion. Why would the race (or gender, or sexual orientation) of the author be significant to the importance of a novel or it's potential for inclusion in a class? It seems to me that the subject, style or substance of the story might be more relevant.

    p.s. Pompey is arguing Bloom's position; Bloom hates the trend toward what Pompey would call a gender, racial and culturally biased cirriculum, and what Orphan would call an inclusive one. Inclusion can, of course, involve racial bias. But some see it as fighting fire with fire.

    pps. Any "affirmative action" program is, by it's very nature, unfair and (if it's based on race) racially biased. We need not automatically conclude that that they are morally or politically reprehensible.
    Last edited by Ecurb; Yesterday at 09:44 PM.

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    It does not matter much if it is affirmative or not. This is not new, the canon is flexible and will always change and include authors that were left behind (one person, one teacher will never really change the canon, if an autor is "forgotten" is because he was not part of the canon in the first place). Let's not get carried with new terminology doing the samething the greeks gave another name.

    Anyways, why an author race is relevant? Since race is a socio-cultura construct, his race will be in the perspective of his creation. It will be everywhere. There will be always perspectives lost because humankind is not that good with that. Take the novel for example, the inclusion of the novels in the canon has to do with social changes. Their style, themes, etc has to do with a lot with the social class that favored them. I am not sure if other cultures (those with literary culture) will not offer quality works, take for example, the day Brazil became a world wide leader and all, they will review the canon to include brazilian writers. They will find writers that are as good as Poe, Byron, Faulkner, Tolstoy, etc. It will not be Paulo Coelho.

    Now, your previous post... I dont think every literature class has the same objetive. I think most will work with improving the student reading, few with his writing. I may be wrong, but High Schoolers should know already basic reading and writting skills? I think most must work with creating conditions for ideal development of literary culture, but this should be done beyond the school class by all of us.
    #foratemer

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