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.
- Shakespeare. Yes, a dozen or more of the plays and all of the sonnets. My favourite: The Tempest. More to read.
- Dante. Only parts of the Inferno. Much more to read, especially as I have been long lost in una selva oscura.
- Chaucer. The prologue, including reading aloud in middle English, and my recent reading of medieval history has intrigued me to read more.
- Cervantes. No. I tried once with a new translation
- 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.
- Moliere. Yes, a long time ago.
- 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.
- Dr Samuel Johnson. No. But I will have to read Bloom’s case to overcome an aversion to port-soaked English gentlemen.
- Goethe. No, guiltily, since I have had Faust on my shelves for decades.
- Wordsworth. Yes
- Austen. Yes, three or four of the novels in my twenties, and I have not rejoined the recent fashion.
- Whitman. Yes, patchily.
- Dickinson. Yes, deeply and with profound fascination since she is one of the authors I most admire who writes regardless of the publishing fates.
- Dickens. Yes, but I have not read Bleak House, I think which is the one her extols most.
- George Eliot. Yes, but again not the canonical Middlemarch.
- 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.
- Ibsen. Yes, again in my late teens and twenties.
- 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.
- Proust. Proudly, yes and yes again in the more recent translation. I may read it again during this long break.
- 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.
- Woolf. Yes, with great waves of emotion as a young man.
- Kafka. Necessarily yes. Though I have not finished The Castle.
- Borges. Splendidly yes.
- Neruda. No.
- Pessoa. No
- Beckett. Yes, but more the plays. I have sampled the smaller fictions, like fizzles, and parts of the great Molloy, Malone 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?