We are faced with a crisis in civilization, as they have been repeated around the world across time (is that then history?). There is no need to ask me if I think history is progressive; you might as well ask me if I think the ocean is progressive. Neither is.
The Review is managed as a critical journal, and the writing is in the tradition of essay writing as inherited through a nearly five hundred year old legacy begun with Montaigne. My spiritual kin Michel is not the only precursor I could name. I recall when Bacon was a model for what I was attempting in some of the writing I was doing in university, particularly the personal journals I was keeping; this kind of journal writing being akin to what I would later do in my essay writing for classes or other critiques I would publish later in blogs, the many I have been the Publishing Editor of several other literary web journals.
Now I do not want to debate the merits of this tradition, nor do I want to defend Western Civilization as it seems to be in need of defending. Western Civilization is not a fabrication of an intellectual elite in the West or at Oxford in the 18th century during one of the high points of British Hegemony. There are, as there have been for decades now, enough diatribes and tirades against this Civilization, even to the extent that there have been enough academics who have questioned if there ever was an historical thing called Western Civilization. Western Civilization not only needs a strong defense but deserves a passionate one to address appropriately just how much virulent critical resentment it has received from inside and outside the Academy.
Let us make no mistake that there are many in academia who resent the intellectual, artistic and literary traditions of Western Civilization, all in an attempt to wrest hegemony away from what they used to call white male dominance in learning, something they used to assert was the only reason we raised Shakespeare to the heights he had achieved (or was it the heights he had been given?). For expediency’s sake, let me name drop and say that I am in camp with Harold Bloom when it comes to the literary traditions of my culture, one among many in the traditions of Western Civilization. Do I defend the Canon and Canonicity? A lot more often than I enter diatribes or tirades against its legitimacy or its validity, but then I do not enter either of the latter two manners of expressing my intellectual resentment that people like me in the past we not included in, or were excluded from, participating in the literary hegemony of the West. The exclusion parts of the resentment, the debate, I have myself critiqued, although without throwing the kitten out with the flea bath water.
I had examined too many editions of the Oxford Anthology of English Literature for a paper on the politics of anthologies and anthologizing, to be able to sidestep the glaring omissions based on gender, the focus of the paper. How few representative examples of the literary prowess of Virginia Woolf or Hilda Doolittle was in itself exemplary enough that a revision and a rethinking was in order–but a rethinking on who should and deserved to be included in the Canon, not a complete revision unto deletion of Canonicity itself. But how condescending the editors were in their prefatory remarks for what poor examples were chosen was enough to raise the ire of students to the point that Canonicity itself was questioned and eventually undermined.
The poverty in the examples was not only in the number of examples, but in the quality of the examples sometimes, as if a concerted effort were made not to include the strongest representations, let’s say, of Woolf’s deserved place in the Canon. However, we must be able to examine what Canonicity is and what compels a tradition to include texts and the politics that go into making up an anthology of literature.
Not to have included who should have been included has left us with the impulse perhaps to include some who should not be–but then, what is it about Canonicity? I used to say after having examined texts of the Canonical Gospels and the non-Canonical Gospels of others about others that the Canonical Gospels, at least in so far as I could discern through translation, just seemed to have been better written texts. That it was not political or social wrangling that raised them in esteem and authority as much as it was literary, aesthetic, something we have lost the acumen for, something for which we have not exercised our talent, something for which we no longer believe and so distrust.