Harold bloom's 'the american literary canon'

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Journadanh mục and author Roberto lớn Lovato poses for a portrait in front of Joel Bergner’s 2004 mural, “Un Pasavị Que Aún Vive,” which is based on stories from the Salvadoran civil war. The mural is one of many in the Mission District’s Balmy Alley. Photo: Alexis Terrazas

The son of Salvadoran immigrants, San Francisco author Roberto lớn Lovato says he grew up never seeing his parents’ trang chủ country in American movies và books. That changed when he encountered Joan Didion.

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Didion brought El Salvador inlớn the mainstream American view with her 1983 book “Salvador,” which recalled a two-week visit to lớn the country during the Salvadoran Civil War. As Lovato lớn saw it, a “tirã of literature” was raising awareness about the crisis in his parents’ homeland through “brilliant & seductive” prose.


These days, his take on Didion is more complicated.

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“‘Terror is the given of the place,’” Lovato says, reciting one of Didion’s most memorable — & problematic — descriptions of El Salvador in the book. “I never caught that line until I read it with an anti-colonial lens. … She paints this picture of Salvadorans as these faceless, barbaric, two-dimensional people, & that approach lớn representing Salvadorans & Central Americans continues to this day.”

As conversations about rooting out bigotry and ending systemic racism continue khổng lồ gain momentum, long-standing literary darlings lượt thích Didion — and the forces that put their books on a pedestal — are being scrutinized through various critical reading lenses.

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“The Western Canon: The Books và School of the Ages” by Harold Bloom Photo: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

The American literary canon — a collection of books and writers that are deemed to lớn be of the highest cultural value — is a battleground where pundits, authors và academics argue for the inclusion & exclusion of certain titles. Some of these discussions focus on the pervasiveness of trắng male authors & their perspectives; others target racist, misogynistic and bigoted ideas expressed within classic texts.

When the late literary critic Harold Bloom published “The Western Canon” in 1994, he identified 26 “immortal” authors, from Homer lớn William Shakespeare, Samuel Beckett và Virginia Woolf. The book continued a fervent debate over what is great & who gets to decide that.

Now, the debate has extended to lớn whether we should have sầu such an organizing structure in the first place.

For queer Chicana writer Myriam Gurcha, the canon’s origin is its own problem.

“The notion of the canon itself is one of these ‘monuments,’ because the British developed it as a civilizing tool to lớn settle India, và the texts were chosen lớn serve as a pacifying influence upon colonized people,” Gurcha says. “The notion of a canon is itself colonial, so perhaps we ought to retire the idea of it completely.”

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Author Myriam Gurba Photo: Emily Books

nguồn & money have an outsize influence on how the canon has been shaped, says 18-year-old Leila Mottley, a Black queer writer from Oakl& who earlier this year sold her novel “Nightcrawling” to Knopf at auction.

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“When you think of who constructs the canon, it’s based in a capitalist hierarchy of who has control over what is printed, shaped by the very privileged & very Trắng powers in publishing,” Mottley says. Roughly 75% of employees in the publishing industry are cisgender trắng women, according to a recent survey by Lee & Low Books, an independent children’s book publisher.

“We get given our literature, & that’s one thing that embarking on a publication process has taught me,” Mottley says, adding that books backed by major publishers become “the books we learn about, read và assess lớn be important to the history of literature or not.”

There are ways lớn push baông xã against the literary monolith, which for teachers, can mean creating a more diverse syllabus not centered on the white experience. Open Syllabus, a nonprofit that collects and analyzes millions of syllabi, lists the top 50 authors taught in the field of English literature. Toni Morrison appears on the list, but she is only one of two blaông xã authors; every other author on the danh sách is Trắng.

Jordan Karnes is one of Mottley’s former teachers at the Oaklvà School for the Arts, và remembers teaching Flannery O’Connor và Carson McCullers, two celebrated Trắng Southern authors who used the “N word” and created characters who “(talked) about black people in a problematic way.” Contextualizing their work for high school students was challenging.

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A survey of millions of school syllabi shows that, amuốn a top-50 danh sách of authors taught in English literature, the late American Nobel laureate Toni Morrison is one of the only Blaông xã authors. Photo: Michel Euler / Associated Press

“I had lớn ask myself, ‘Is it worth it?’” says Karnes, adding that while both authors are important lớn the canon, they are likely best saved for a university classroom.

“High school is the time for students to lớn see themselves, develop an interest in reading books, và feel safe,” Karnes says.

Stanford English và humanities Professor Paula M.L. Moya has made a long-term effort to teach books primarily written by women of color who have been excluded from the canon. But she says there are still many important books within the canon và isn’t in favor of banning books or authors for any reason.

“No to lớn banning; yes to making choices about what it is that we teach,” Moya says. “You’re cutting literature off at its knees if you say you cannot write about anything that you are not.”

She also points out that the canon is ever changing.

“As we become a more diverse society, & our attitudes about diversity change, sometimes for the better, some worse, the canon diversifies, & what we see in it diversifies và changes,” she says.

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Studies have shown that white Americans could be the minority by 2045, & as the debate over the existence of a canon continues, it might be impossible khổng lồ uphold one that is almost exclusively White.

“I think the way the canon once existed was way too Trắng, too Western, & way too male,” she says. “But there is some amazing literature there nevertheless. Ultimately, the canon reflects ourselves back khổng lồ us, it says something about who we want to be.”

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Chuyên mục: literature