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

  1. #16
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    He is an interesting and entertaining writer. But he also holds fairly conservative views, and many people love him for it. Bloom believes in, and defends, 'the canon'. Unfortunately, just because that canon consists of dead, white European males some seem to think it's worthless and should be ditched. I don't know about other countries, but here in the UK the academic/literary world is dominated by people with liberal-Left views who seem more interested in race, identity and sexuality than artistic excellence. Right now, there is a campaign by black British academics to "de-colonize" university curriculums, which is another way of saying "cut out as many dead white Europeans as possible and replace them with black writers." Imagine a group of Africans going to China and telling them that their Universities were "too Chinese"!! Another group were trying to have the poet laureate replaced by Benjamin Zephaniah, a Jamaican poet influenced by hip hop and rap music. I am reading a biography of the 19th-century English poet Swinburne at the moment (almost forgotten today- just another of those dead, white European males). He once wrote a selection of poems for a literary magazine, one in French, one in Latin, one in Italian and one in ancient Greek. And by the standards of his time that wasn't extraordinary. Benjamin Zephaniah can barely write coherent English, let alone French or Latin!

    Bloom's real gripe is that we've replaced deep learning and study with an insipid political correctness. In other words, it doesn't really matter what you read, or how much, or how intelligently, so long as you hold the 'correct' PC views. I have printed off his list of the great books ('Bloom's canon' as it is known) and am following it closely.
    Last edited by WICKES; 02-20-2019 at 10:30 AM.

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    Bloom real grip is a BS conservative non-sense. He is quick to add like a hypocrite several modern jewish writers in his "world canon" list because he is Jewish. He is doing exactly what he "complains" about african americans (in the case) or feminists. Also his claims that the canon is purely aesthetic is infantile since aesthetics is in many aspects ideological and he also goes for it, when he leaves some very relevant dead white man such as Foucault or Derrida from his lists only because they are marxists.

    The world canon does not belong to anyone or any culture, when afro-american academics go to introduce african authors in universities, they are not damaging the Canon at all. Chinua Achebe didnt remove Conrad from the canon, he added several names, after all and several women writers from XIX century (and before) were added to the canon because the efforts by XX century feminists and their close readings of the works. Literature is open and so it is the canon, that is the point. You are not replaced (if you are not good enough to survive without a circunstancial reading by students, then you are just not canon. Melville, Dante, Machiavelli, Homer, and god know how many authors had periods of ostracism and bigger enemies than some random teacher somewhere and they still canonical), the canon grows. It is absolutely ridiculous to think when you add several perspectives and culture (like England, hardly a dead white man country now), they will read and vallue the same literature. And please Swinburne created a national sport: to pinpoint how over-the top his poems were, already in the XIX century by several white man now dead. He is not that impressive and talking four languages? Are you sure guys like Keats or Cervantes are such multilingual prodigies?

    Bloom failure is probally his own sucess, because otherwise, he would have killed works of art with aesthetical merits just because they do not fit his ideological standpoint.
    Last edited by JCamilo; 02-20-2019 at 01:27 PM.
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    I wouldn't argue with the idea that Swinburne could write badly but he wrote a lot and some of it is good. He ain't as powerful as say Tennyson or Browning but poetry needs its Swinburnes too.

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    Tennyson, another dead white man, was quite maligned in the XX century, way more than Swinburne because Tennyson was the main representative of that age, yet, his reading never went to the point he was not read anymore or that his influence couldn't be denied. Swinburne, with his ocasional merit, is less read than then because he is a lesser poet, not because he was a dead white man having his reputation smeared by some imaginary conspirary of diversity pawns.

    Let's face it, Ideology has a say on the canon, just like in any canon, but it is not something that can be corrupt "the canon".
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  5. #20
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Swinburne probably never had sex with a monkey and then ate it, although he once claimed he had. His poetry is noted for his skill with rhymes and rhythms. He was also (to return to the subject of this thread) a noted critic, who wrote:

    To Walt Whitman in America

    Send but a song oversea for us,
    Heart of their hearts who are free,
    Heart of their singer, to be for us
    More than our singing can be;
    Ours, in the tempest at error,
    With no light but the twilight of terror;
    Send us a song oversea!

  6. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by WICKES View Post
    He is an interesting and entertaining writer. But he also holds fairly conservative views, and many people love him for it. Bloom believes in, and defends, 'the canon'. Unfortunately, just because that canon consists of dead, white European males some seem to think it's worthless and should be ditched. I don't know about other countries, but here in the UK the academic/literary world is dominated by people with liberal-Left views who seem more interested in race, identity and sexuality than artistic excellence. Right now, there is a campaign by black British academics to "de-colonize" university curriculums, which is another way of saying "cut out as many dead white Europeans as possible and replace them with black writers." Imagine a group of Africans going to China and telling them that their Universities were "too Chinese"!! Another group were trying to have the poet laureate replaced by Benjamin Zephaniah, a Jamaican poet influenced by hip hop and rap music. I am reading a biography of the 19th-century English poet Swinburne at the moment (almost forgotten today- just another of those dead, white European males). He once wrote a selection of poems for a literary magazine, one in French, one in Latin, one in Italian and one in ancient Greek. And by the standards of his time that wasn't extraordinary. Benjamin Zephaniah can barely write coherent English, let alone French or Latin!

    Bloom's real gripe is that we've replaced deep learning and study with an insipid political correctness. In other words, it doesn't really matter what you read, or how much, or how intelligently, so long as you hold the 'correct' PC views. I have printed off his list of the great books ('Bloom's canon' as it is known) and am following it closely.
    Decolonizing a classroom is not simply about cutting out white European males. Whether we like it or not our classrooms have changed. I look at my students in a first year survey class, very few of whom are white, and they go several months before they get to read an author that somewhat speaks to their personal experience. I believe strongly in the value of the canon, I work on eighteenth century precursors to the the novel (mostly Defoe), but teaching with a mindfulness to the full experiences of our students and to the message we are putting across as educators is important. Looking at my specialty, eighteenth-century British literature, I conceive of decolonizing a classroom on the subject as more akin to making sure if I teach Johnson's Rasselas or Behn's Oroonoko I also make sure to teach Equiano's Interesting Narrative so I don't perpetuate the silencing of minority voices.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
    - Margaret Atwood

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    If I was sitting in Mongolia studying English literature I would expect the writers not to be speaking to my experience but their own. Why study what you don't like because these writers didn't grow up in a blackhouse. For that I'll read my own poets etc.

  8. #23
    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ennison View Post
    If I was sitting in Mongolia studying English literature I would expect the writers not to be speaking to my experience but their own. Why study what you don't like because these writers didn't grow up in a blackhouse. For that I'll read my own poets etc.
    I think that ignores the pedogogical purpose of the classroom and the context of the institution. I don't think students of colour expect Middle English lyrics to speak directly of their experience, but we should be conscious of the dynamics we perpetuate when choosing course content. I personally think historical surveys need to be scrapped in favour of generic, theoretical and mechanical frameworks for first year classes. It sends a bad message to students to suggest through the curriculum that their interest in something like African American literature is not relevant unless they first pass through the gates of canonical literature that may not be as relevant to them. I'm merely commenting on what "decolonizing" the classroom means as a practice rather than as a supposed bogeyman of anti-white resentment.

    Also, the racialized rhetoric above (the first post I responded to not yours) caries a problematic suggestion that a person of colour is less authentically Canadian/British/American than white students.
    Last edited by OrphanPip; 05-17-2019 at 08:20 PM.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
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    If I was sitting in Mongolia studying English literature I would expect the writers not to be speaking to my experience but their own. Why study what you don't like because these writers didn't grow up in a blackhouse. For that I'll read my own poets etc.

    This is very strange. It is like a teacher like Pip is the sole responsable for your choices and you can only read what he suggests/demands. There are or should be multiple places that will allow some exchange of experience for a reader, not just the school class such as libraries, book shops, clubs, foruns... And more strange is the idea you will study what you like. It is study, some degree of challenge and lack of knowledge is expected and the teacher has every chance to work with you and everyone in the class (and one student that "likes" a book you don't already justify that inclusion) before you can judge it out.
    Last edited by JCamilo; 05-17-2019 at 08:00 PM.
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  10. #25
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    Another problem with Bloom's "Canon" is that many high school and (even) college students find it difficult. I've spoken to teachers who are expected to teach Shakespeare to teen-aged students for whom English is a second language -- and who can barely read modern English. Heck, on these very pages, Kev (a smart, well-read guy) confesses to finding Shakespeare difficult.

    Learning to read difficult texts is important, of course. But I fear we scare teenagers off. They may learn to think that "literary" novels, plays and poems are beyond them, or boring, and that they should stick to genre fiction, Young Adult novels, etc. Teachers should try to instill a love of literature in their students -- and canonical texts are not always the best way to do that (or, if they are, texts should be chosen that are both canonical and geared to the interests and reading comprehension levels of the students).

    I'm guessing that Bloom's students at Yale are better equipped to read many of Bloom's canonical texts than many students attending Community College.

    In response to ennison: why read any fiction you don't like? Yet that's exactly what teaching the canon in public (state) schools attempts to force children to do, often unsuccessfully. Political Correctness cuts both ways. Bloom thinks admiring the canon is "PC"; others think reading about other cultures is. My opinion: high school students should be encouraged to read those books they actually like (although, of course, tastes differ, and you can't please everyone).

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    A world canon is obviously filled with other cultures and nobody is making anyone not read what they like. As I said, the classroom is not the only place you will have contact with literature. It has specific objectives. Also, the ideas of "reading what I like" reduces reading experience to pleasure. It can be, but it also create a generation a bit too pampered.

    Anyways, Shakespeare is difficult. Addults must admit it. He is Shakespeare, one of the most complexes artists ever. There are however plenty of ways to approach him. Sometimes I wonder, every student that would give up shakespeare because some sort of difficulty and go back to, i dunno, Hunger Games, has the same attitude playing the very complex videogames we have today. WIll him give up and come back to River Raid and Pac Man from Atari? Why instead of pleasure we dont say the satisfaction?

    Of course, in Brazil we have similar debates, and I remind about Guimarães Rosa. He is a XX century author, so, language is supposed to be less a challenge. Supposed, because Guimarães is joycean: he prefers to work with the way the words sounds, so he even refused to use the register of words that we would find in a dictionary. Also, he used a specific form of portuguese, used in a countryside region (so specific that people tought he invented it until the day he went to Rio de Janeiro with a cowboy from this parts and the dude talked like they talked in the book). He wanted to represent the text with flow of oral speech and used wallet-words and what to not. To make it harder, he was a modernist, he has books swaping chronologies and his most famous book, Grande Sertões Vereda, in almost a continual stream of conciouness for 600 pages in that style. Hard for students to tackle? Yeah, except in Guimarães City, if you go there, you find group of kids 8-14 years old, able to recite entire portions of book. They will work as tourist guides for you and sometimes they are put together for shows and what not. Quite amazing. Those kids - it is a small countryside city, so nobody is exactly born within "high" educational groups - enjoy and learn Guimarães Rosa. Perhaps the difference is in how the work is done with them?
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  12. #27
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Hi, Camilo,

    I´m putting this link in (seems to be the most recent translation), so that people might get an idea of Rosas´s language:

    https://www.wordswithoutborders.org/...guimaraes-rosa
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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    I repeat that if all you want from a course of literature in another language from another culture is to have your own experiences validated then you are in the wrong bleeding course pal.

  14. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by ennison View Post
    I repeat that if all you want from a course of literature in another language from another culture is to have your own experiences validated then you are in the wrong bleeding course pal.
    I think students taking a course in a foreign language are beyond the scope or relevance of the conversation. I'm referring to my Canadian students of colour. Also, I don't think your point substantively addresses the appropriateness of foregrounding certain canonical texts in the education of students.

    A teacher selecting material for a course reading list has to consider a number of factors: relevance, accessibility, and coherence. More goes into selecting a reading list than simply slotting in a random assortment of important works. The course will always be more effective by selecting texts that speak to each other in some way.

    The first course I taught 6 years ago when I was fresh out of my MA was titled "Sexual Rebellion" and was focused on a selection of texts that dealt with the topic of taboo sexuality. I organized it into three subunits: Banned or censored texts, 20th-century American feminist and queer texts, and post 1980s film. Students need digestible chunks.

    The course materials included: Fanny Hill, Libertine poetry, Mrs. Warren's Profession, Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich, Sex-positive and sex-negative feminist theory, The Vagina Monologues, The SCUM Manifesto, Paris is Burning, and Crash.

    I think as educators we have a duty not simply to teach a text but also to justify its relevance to the student. Students should be challenged but they should also be considered as agents in their own learning and the teacher has a responsibility to them that is complex and begins with the choice of subjects. Cleland and Shaw can be made to be relevant to current students by framing discussions around pornography, prostitution and the male gaze. My pedagogical opinions may disagree with those of my colleagues.
    "If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia."
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  15. #30
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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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