The Western Canon

  • by Harold Bloom
  • Narrated by James Armstrong
  • 22 hrs and 30 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Harold Bloom explores our Western literary tradition by concentrating on the works of twenty-six authors central to the Canon. He argues against ideology in literary criticism; he laments the loss of intellectual and aesthetic standards; he deplores multiculturalism, Marxism, feminism, neoconservatism, Afrocentrism, and the New Historicism.
Insisting instead upon "the autonomy of aesthetic," Bloom places Shakespeare at the center of the Western Canon. Shakespeare has become the touchstone for all writers who come before and after him, whether playwrights, poets, or storytellers. In the creation of character, Bloom maintains, Shakespeare has no true precursor and has left no one after him untouched. Milton, Samuel Johnson, Goethe, Ibsen, Joyce, and Beckett were all indebted to him; Tolstoy and Freud rebelled against him; and while Dante, Wordsworth, Austen, Dickens, Whitman, Dickinson, Proust, and the modern Hispanic and Portuguese writers Borges, Neruda, and Pessoa are exquisite examples of how canonical writing is born of an originality fused with tradition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A personal and opinionated book on the Canon

My main motivation for writing this review is my disappointment in the other reviews here on Audible so far. There are many much better reviews of this very book on amazon.com, and I would urge you to check them out before being discouraged from picking up Bloom's excellent book.

Most of the reviews here so far either complains about the narration or complains about Bloom's personality and choice of books. Bloom's personality and choice of books has been discussed to death in many other reviews (for example the ones on amazon), so I will mainly focus on the narration.

Luckily, the task of defending the narrator, which I think does an excellent job, is eased through the availability of the audio-preview on this page. Be sure to check it out. The sound quality of the actual download is also somewhat better than the preview. Amongst the complaints that are raised is that the narrator does not emulate, say, the French pronunciation of a French name. This seems petty, and perhaps some of the very same people would complain that the narrator was snobbish if he, say, switched to an upper-class Parisien pronunciation of Foucault. Not only does the narrator manage to read a difficult and almost baroque text in a natural way, he also manages to maintain the calmness, humor and humanity that Bloom's text so beautifully contains. In fact, when I read Bloom's other works, I can still almost hear James Armstrong's voice as I read. Bloom's personality has become forever mixed with Armostrong's interpretation of him.

Amongst the reviews here on Audible, the main attack on Bloom's personality and choice of books is raised by Jerry from Topeka. His rhetoric is that of the rebel. However, other than his supposed authority as a college graduate and having read Ulyesses (not particularly strong arguments), he does not offer any good reason for disliking the book as much as he seems to be doing. His stabs seems to be applicable to any opinionated text on the western canon written by someone famous. It seems that Jerry would rather read a boring and distanced academic treatise on the history of literature, but instead got a charmingly grumpy old man's advice to the younger generation. Bloom has summarized his best findings and perspectives from a lifetime of serious reading and interpretation. It is impossible to have time to read everything, so Bloom's advice is much appreciated. Perhaps the most interesting part of Jerry's review is to point out that not all agree with Bloom. Go figure. Bloom has a very personal and esoteric reading style, and is quite the character. Bloom in no way tries to hide his quite literally religious relationship to Shakespeare, and if that seems annoying, this is not the book for you. Bloom's strangeness is so obvious that I do not think anyone is at risk of being seduced by the devil through reading this book, even if you do not have a PhD in literature.

That being said, this is obviously not an easy book, and Bloom actually expects you to sit down and read (or listen through) Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante, etc. He motivates why you should use your time on this, and gives some indication on his way of reading some of the master works in the canon. If it is very unlikely that you sit down and Milton's quite difficult, but very rewarding Paradise Lost, this book is not for you. An introduction to literature critique will also be highly recommended, and for example The Teaching Company's course “From Plato to Post-modernism: Understanding the Essence of Literature and the Role of the Author” by Louis Markos would be a very helpful introduction to the subject.
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- Steffen

This one is tough sledding.

I have been an Audible listener for many years and I try to explore a diversity of literature and subject matter. However, this book was a challenge to the extent that I could not finish it. I tried twice. I can agree with Jerry from Topeka that Professor Bloom is pedantic, but that was not the worst thing for me. The worst thing was the narrator who was reading the pedantry of the writer. A better narrator might have improved the book, because the material is actually quite interesting. Instead, the droll pseudo-British accent of this narrator was too much for me. I recommend that you pass this one by. There is plenty of better material available on Audible.
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- Richard Jinkerson

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-26-2000
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.