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The Western canon is a canon of books, music and art (and specifically one with very loose boundaries) that is thought by many to have been highly influential in shaping Western culture. It is a list of the greatest works with significant literary and artistic merit. The selection of a canon is important to the theory of educational perennialism and the development of high culture.
Examples of shorter canonical lists include (in which the selectors have attempted to list only the most important ones):
University reading lists are also good indicators of what is considered to be in the Western canon:
Longer lists (in which the selectors have attempted to be more comprehensive):
- Loeb Classical Library (Greek and Latin authors)
- I Tatti Renaissance Library (Renaissance authors)
- Everyman's Library (Modern works)
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. This program, developed in the middle third of the 20th century, grew out of the curriculum at the University of Chicago. 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.
- ... The greatest university of all is a collection of books. - Thomas Carlyle
There has been an ongoing, intensely political debate over the nature and status of the canon since at least the 1960s. In the USA, in particular, it has been attacked as a compendium of books written mainly by "dead white European males", that thus do not represent the viewpoints of many others in contemporary societies around the world. Others, notably Allan Bloom in his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind, have disagreed strongly. Authors such as Yale Professor of Humanities Harold Bloom (no relation) have also 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.
Defenders maintain that those who undermine the canon do so out of primarily political interests, and that the measure of quality represented by the works of the canon is of an aesthetic rather than political nature. Thus, any political objections aimed at the canon are ultimately irrelevant.
One of the main objections to a canon of literature is the question of authority—who should have the power to determine what works are worth reading and teaching?
Works which are commonly included in the canon include works of fiction such as some epic poems, poetry, music, drama, novels, and other assorted forms of literature from the many diverse Western (and more recently non-Western) cultures. Many non-fiction works are also listed, primarily from the areas of religion, mythology, science, philosophy, economics, politics, and history.
Works which directly address the canon (both for and against):
- The History of Western Literature by Otto Maria Carpeaux
- Shakespeare by Harold Bloom
- The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by Harold Bloom
- The Dead Father by Donald Barthelme
- Canons of Elizabethan poetry
- Great Conversation
- seminal work
- Stringfellow Barr
- Scott Buchanan
- "Harold Bloom's canon"
- All That You Know Not to Be Is Utterly Real, Part I by Curtis White
- "Great Ideas" Website
- A "Great Books" Website
- Western Canon Great Books University
- Columbia College Core Curriculumde:Kanon der Literatur