Western canon

The Western canon is a canon of books and art, and specifically a set with very loose boundaries of books and other art that, in general, have been most influential in shaping Western culture. The selection of a canon is important in educational perennialism.

The process of listmaking -- defining the boundaries of the canon -- is endless. One of the notable attempts in the English-speaking world was the Great Books of the Western World program that grew out of the curriculum at the University of Chicago developed in the middle third of the 20th century. University president Robert Hutchins and his collaborator Mortimer Adler developed a program that offered reading lists, books, and organizational strategies for reading clubs to the general public.

Since at least the 1960s there has been an intensely political debate over the nature and status of the canon. It has been attacked as a compendium of books mainly by "Dead White European Males" that do not represent the viewpoints of other people (i.e., most people in the world). Others, notably Alan Bloom in his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, have fought back vigorously.

Authors such as Yale Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom have spoken strongly in favor of the canon, and in general the canon remains as a represented idea in most institutions, though its implications continue to be debated heavily.

Works which are commonly included in the canon include works of fiction such as epic poems, poetry, drama, literature from many different Western (and more recently, many non-Western) cultures, and novels. Many non-fiction works are also listed, primarily from the areas of religion, science, philosophy, economics, politics, and history.

Works which directly address the canon (both for and against):

  • Shakespeare by Harold Bloom
  • The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by Harold Bloom
  • The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme

See also

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