List: my lacunae in Bloom’s Western Canon


I admire Harold Bloom and his scorn for the New Schools of Resentment. I recognise my own motivations to read in his argument that “the self, in its quest to be free and solitary, ultimately reads with one aim only: to confront greatness…. Our common fate is age, sickness, death, oblivion. Our common hope, tenuous but persistent, is for some version of survival.” (The Western Canon, p 524)

So my list today is an honest, brief reckoning of who among the 26 authors in Bloom’s The Western Canon I have confronted, my gaps and who I intend to read.

  1. Shakespeare. Yes, a dozen or more of the plays and all of the sonnets. My favourite: The Tempest. More to read.
  2. Dante. Only parts of the Inferno. Much more to read, especially as I have been long lost in una selva oscura.
  3. Chaucer. The prologue, including reading aloud in middle English, and my recent reading of medieval history has intrigued me to read more.
  4. Cervantes. No. I tried once with a new translation
  5. Montaigne. Yes. I used to model myself on his prefatory remarks about being long weary of the service of the court and retiring to his study.
  6. Moliere. Yes, a long time ago.
  7. Milton. I have an old leather-bound copy of his poems, and have read Lycidas well, and still recall Howard Felperin’s joy in this poem, but have not read Paradise Lost.
  8. Dr Samuel Johnson. No. But I will have to read Bloom’s case to overcome an aversion to port-soaked English gentlemen.
  9. Goethe. No, guiltily, since I have had Faust on my shelves for decades.
  10. Wordsworth. Yes
  11. Austen. Yes, three or four of the novels in my twenties, and I have not rejoined the recent fashion.
  12. Whitman. Yes, patchily.
  13. Dickinson. Yes, deeply and with profound fascination since she is one of the authors I most admire who writes regardless of the publishing fates.
  14. Dickens. Yes, but I have not read Bleak House, I think which is the one her extols most.
  15. George Eliot. Yes, but again not the canonical Middlemarch.
  16. Tolstoy. Extensively, and I think it was 2010, amidst the political crisis in Australia and the darkening world, that I read War and Peace fully in the  Volokhonsky translation.
  17. Ibsen. Yes, again in my late teens and twenties.
  18. Freud. Extensively, and I regret selling the many texts that I once owned, and even though I disavow his therapy, he is a great essayist who has inspired a great contemporary essayist in Adam Phillips.
  19. Proust. Proudly, yes and yes again in the more recent translation. I may read it again during this long break.
  20. Joyce. Yes to Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and maybe a third to a half of Ulysses. I dip into Finnegan’s Wake now and again, and it remains one of those projects for later liffey.
  21. Woolf. Yes, with great waves of emotion as a young man.
  22. Kafka. Necessarily yes. Though I have not finished The Castle.
  23. Borges. Splendidly yes.
  24. Neruda. No.
  25. Pessoa. No
  26. Beckett. Yes, but more the plays. I have sampled the smaller fictions, like fizzles, and parts of the great MolloyMalone Dies and The Unnameable trilogy.

So the gaps are pleasingly few – Pessoa, Neruda, Goethe, Johnson, Cervantes.

There are some who I need to read more deeply: Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, Dickens, Eliot, Joyce.

And only one who I wish to avoid – poor old Dr Johnson.

Perhaps next week: a canonical list of post-1960 writers?



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