Western Lit 501
After thirty years in academia, Jack was acquainted with a number of English professors. There were several whose opinion he had come to respect but none ranked above the one now retired and living near Jack on the Gulf coast. She had advanced degrees from eastern universities, but had managed to maintain intellectual independence from the deconstruction crowd. Jack arranged a meeting with her, but not wishing to explain the supernatural nature of the assignment, he cooked up a story about a publisher wishing to par down Harold Bloom's Canon. He said there was an honorarium attached which he would split with her.
They met for lunch at a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the beach and after formalities and the placing of orders, Jack explained,
"Our assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to make a Reader's Digest list, more or less from Harold Bloom's Canon. As you certainly remember, Bloom opposed all manner of critics on the left, whom he lumped together as â€śthe School of Resentment". The School of Resentment wants to dump all dead white Europeans from any literary list and celebrate untalented but deserving wannabes who diddle liberal heart strings. They seem to be whining and winning, but that is not our concern. So I have made a short list which we then whittle down to bare bones. I hope you can suggest additions or deletions." He placed the list on the table where they both could see it. "First the Greeks."
Sophocles (c. 496-c. 405 BC) Indispensable!
Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone.
The Theban Cycle is indispensible, every generation for the last two thousand five hundred years could have benefitted by exposure to those plays. Man is not the measure of all things, but the thing measured and found wanting, every generation needs to be reminded that 'It is not about you'.
I don't know about Kazantzakis, he should have beat Camus for the Nobel Prize in '57, but.....'' her voice trailed off.;
Jack picks up the slack, "Zorba might be able to teach us all how to live. The narrator, who has socialist ideals, attempts to get to know the workers, but Zorba warns him to keep his distance: 'Man is a brute.... If you're cruel to him, he respects and fears you. If you're kind to him, he plucks your eyes out.' But I am willing to table Zorba, so to speak"
She further examined the list.
Lewis Carroll, 1832-1898, Alice in Wonderland
Divine ComedyRoberto Calasso (1941- )
The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony"Dante and Homer are in the same class. A must for the short list. The best book of our times on Greek Mythology was the Calasso, but I have reservations...."
Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955)
William Faulkner (1897-1962)
The Sound and the Fury
Gabriel GarcĂa MĂˇrquez (1927-2014)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Spanish: Cien aĂ±os de soledad)
Walker Percy(1916 -1990)The Moviegoer; The Last Gentleman
The lit professor continued, "Huck Finn, to some the great American novel and to others a dangerous book. I am unthreatened by Huck, but if you don't put Toni Morrison on the list you may be burned at the stake. Freedom of speech is limited to the politically correct.
Wallace Stevens is for me the great American poet. I struggle with his poems, but the struggle is worth it. Percy is a fine southern writer, but he is outclassed by Faulkner. Overlooking Gabriel GarcĂa MĂˇrquez is impossible "
"Give me some time and I'll come up with my choice for winners. I'll get back to you." She folded the list and placed it in her purse.
After they finished their lunch Jack paid the bill, they said goodbyes at her car and the lady drove away.
A week later Jack received an email from the lit teacher:
I have decided to make your job more difficult; rather than providing a short list of titles, here are some great openings from works you should consider.
Just point your browser here: Great Openings
Good luck on your quest,
PS, Keep my share of the honorarium, it's more fun to torment you. :)