Harold Bloom (1930–) from “An Elegy for the Canon,” The Western Canon: The Books and the School of Ages (1994)
Originally the canon meant the choice of books in our teaching institutions, 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 in history? The Biblical threescore years and ten no longer suffice to read more than a selection of the great writers in what can be called the Western tradition, let alone in all the world’s traditions. Who reads must choose, since there is literally not enough time to read everything, even if one does nothing but read. Mallarmés’s grand line— “the flesh is sad, alas, and I have read all the books”—has become a hyperbole. Overpopulation, Malthusian repletion, is the authentic context for canonical anxieties. Not a moment passes these days without fresh rushes of academic lemmings off the cliffs they proclaim the political responsibilities of the critic, but eventually all this moralizing will subside. Every teaching institution will have its department of cultural studies, an ox not to be gored, and an aesthetic underground will flourish, restoring something of the romance of reading.
KeywordsLiterary Critic Literary Work Class Struggle Figurative Language Paradise Lost
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