David Bromwich Replies

David Bromwich Replies

I do not take the main issue to be “the canon.” The word itself is misleading as well as solemn, and I used article was something different: the relation of individual thought to the reading of good books. I still find a useful test of that relation in the opinions of qualified judges both living and dead. If it is argued that some of the judges were bigoted, I ask whether we can get the benefit of their judgments without falling prey to their bigotry. The answer often given is a very hasty, ill-informed, and self-satisfied “No.” This rigid proscription against judgment, or taste, has its corollary in the wish for a whole-length remodeling of our image of authors and readers. We are urged to praise books in keeping with their promotion of certain social aims, and to admire authors for the obviousness with which they participate in a certain group. To the extent that we cooperate, our reading will come to be guided by the demands of our own membership in a group. Thus the choices of criticism are reduced to the knowledge that any author I can care for will be “my type of person.” Pretty clearly, this way of thinking is anti-intellectual and anti-individual, but it is widespread in the academy now, and it suggests how far the fate of individual thought may indeed depend on the fate of liberal learning.

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Lima