Shooting for the Western Canon
By John “Birdman” Bryant
I am a book lover, and I am a celebrator of Western civilization, but I am not a celebrator of what is often called the ‘Western canon’, ie, the books of ages past which the authors of Western civilization have created. Yes, some of these books — a very few — are worthwhile to read in the present day, and all were important at one time or other; but most were superseded long ago, and their value is minimal beyond representing a small white footprint in the sands of time.
(“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime
And departing, leave behind us
Footprints in the sands of time.”)
Valuing these books in the present day is a little like celebrating the stones which are used to build a cathedral, rather than celebrating the cathedral itself. More particularly, in my humble opinion there are very few books written earlier than the mid-19th century which are worth reading today, and the valuable part of these books will usually be found to be small. Looking at a list of the canon assembled by the pro-white/pro-western civilization writer Yggdrasil and available on the Internet at http://home.ddc.net/ygg/etext/index.htm , I find only the following authors whose works contain substantial portions that I believe might be worth reading in the sense of supplying useful or positive ideas:
* MacDonald (contemporary)
* Oliver (contemporary)
* Orwell (contemporary)
* Sun Tzu
As I stated above, in the older books there is often only a little of the author’s work which remains useful; but in most cases the useful material has been extracted by others and elaborated into more useful forms. Kant, for example, is credited with the important analytic-synthetic/a priori-a posteriori distinction, but later philosophers have improved on Kant considerably, and I have strong doubts if there is much in Kant’s work which is useful today besides this, except possibly the fact that he did not hold the darker races in high regard. Likewise, Leibnitz was co-discoverer of the calculus, which will forever be his great intellectual monument; but his theory of monadology, in which he envisioned the universe as comprised of tiny conscious particles called ‘monads’, was a theory that deserves to be dispatched to the merciful land of Nepenthe. A situation similar to that of Kant is Plato, whose discussion of ideas/ideals set philosophers to thinking about the difference between real objects and their ‘types’, a train of thought which has culminated in my own work on existence status, which I discuss at length in my hopefully-soon-to-be-published book, Logical Alternatives: Studies in the Philosophy of Logic and Existence.
Besides what may be called the ‘good and useful works’ of the Western canon, there are also those whose efforts, while deserving familiarity, have been noticably negative in one way or another, including the works of Machiavelli and Marx. Somewhat similar is the category of writings whose ideas have been failures, including Utopia (tho still inspiring in all its variants, particularly More’s suggestion that chamber pots should be made of gold), the US Constitution (a ‘noble experiment’, but clearly a failure now) and Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution (basically a defense of monarchy, another failed idea, tho democracy has been less than a perfect replacement, and indeed may itself be said to be a failure in the forms in which it has been tried.)
Our above comments, however, do not address the real problem with the Western canon, or at least with the list that Yggdrasil has composed. The real problem is that most of the works listed are either trivial or dated or both. Specifically, a large number of the works listed by Ygg are simply entertainment (Shakespeare, Twain, Chaucer, Scott etc) or children’s stories (Andersen, Aesop, Carroll, Grimm); others are works of history which were long ago superseded (Thucydides, Herodotus, Caesar, Carlyle, Tacitus etc); and yet others are religious works of interest to virtually no one (Calvin, Knox, Luther) which in several cases are simply entertainment placed in a religious setting (Dante, Milton). Even the works on Ygg’s favorite topic — race — are fatally dated in most cases (Ford, Grant, Hitler, Stoddard), for there has been an explosion of knowledge on racial matters in just the last decade or so, mediated primarily by the Internet, which could not possibly be comprehended by the works which Ygg lists except for MacDonald.
Now before going further, let me make a confession: My acquaintance with most of the works which Ygg lists is superficial, and superficial acquaintance makes a somewhat risky basis for commentary. However, the principle on which I base my comments is simply that old works — except for some artistic and literary creations — become superseded; and while they may stand as grand milestones in the progress of man, that does not mean that one would wish to return to them, except perhaps for scholars and specialists, who may seek to tease further insights out of the works that could have been passed over by earlier and less sophisticated readers. It is for this reason, perhaps, that Mark Twain proffered his now-famous definition of ‘classic’ as ‘a book that people praise but don’t read’: They don’t read it because they usually have something better, and they only praise it because they don’t want to collide with the studied ignorance of what my dear departed mother used to call “cult-cha”.
Now being in a confessional mood, let me say that there is often more to literature than meets the eye, and in fact a good deal of literary ‘entertainment’ was actually thinly (or thickly) disguised commentary on a world where it would have been dangerous to state such commentary without a literary disguise. Perhaps the most famous of literary commentators was Jonathan Swift, whose powerful philippics and romans a clef have been forgotten in favor of treating his works as — irony of ironies — CHILDREN’S stories (Sic transit gloria Swift kick). Accordingly, for students of earlier times, the reading of ‘literary’ works is a necessity; but this hardly raises them to the status of must-read books for contemporary readers.
In conclusion I would like to comment on a few of the works and the authors which Ygg has selected for his inclusion in the canon:
* Ygg includes Sun Tzu (and alphabetizes his name under ‘Tzu’ when it should be under ‘Sun’ — and is there nothing new under the Sun?). If this guy is a Westerner, I have simply got to get new glasses.
* Ygg includes Dumas pere. While Dumas was a great storyteller, he was also a mulatto, and what with Ygg blanching at the thought of negroes, I find Dumas’ inclusion surprising.
* Ygg includes Don Quixote, a book which was intended as a mockery of chivalry. While the book is well-known — it even gave us the word ‘quixotic’ — it is hardly relevant to anything in the present day, altho it was read to me by my parents when I was a child. Perhaps that is the fate of ‘classic’ books that cease to be understood for their original meanings, as was the case with Swift’s books.
* Ygg includes HG Wells. While I don’t know much about Wells’ writing, I do know that he was a Fabian socialist and New World Orderly, and I hate to think that the Western canon is infected by such persons.
* Ygg includes Kierkegaard, one of the founders of ‘existentialism’. While I don’t know much about this philosophy, I know enuf to keep away from it — it is what can be called a ‘philosophy of non-meaning’ and its adherents include such buggerheads as Camus and Sartre — Nobelists to be sure, but buggerheads just the same. If anything exemplifies the antithesis of rational Western philosophy, existentialism is it.
* Ygg includes Godel. Godel was brilliant; he just didn’t have much common sense. He concocted an absurd scheme which ended up proving nothing except that he could manipulate symbols to no good purpose. The entire matter is explained in complete detail in my book Systems Theory and Scientific Philosophy, obtainable thru my website at http://www.thebirdman.org (see book section).
* Ygg includes the work of the Jewish writer Adorno, a member of the Frankfort school, which is considered by those of the pro-white/pro-Western civilization persuasion to have been a nexus of destructive cultural influence.
* Ygg includes numerous religious works, but also includes Voltaire’s Candide. This is curious because Voltaire was a raging atheist who hated the Church, and who often signed his letters with “Ecrasez l’infame” (“Crush the horrible thing”). Furthermore, Candide was a mocking response to Leibniz’s apparently pious remark that we are living in ‘the best of all possible worlds’ — something which evidently struck Voltaire as particularly absurd in view of the famous Lisbon earthquake which killed a large number of people and left many others in distress.
* Ygg includes Nietzsche. Nietzsche is unreadable. He also hated Christianity (cf Voltaire). Finally, he died insane, and — in my view — lived insane. One thing’s for sure — he was no ubermensch.
* Ygg includes Burns. Burns, like Neitzsche, is unreadable, but this is because he writes in the Scottish brogue. Poetry is often difficult to understand, but what with Burns croonin’ and burrrrin’, it’s well-nigh impossible.
(“The best-laid women o’ mice and men gang-bang agley.”)
* Ygg includes Shakespeare. If there is anything closer to fraud in the literary world than the celebration of Shakespeare, I haven’t heard about it. In Shakespeare’s favor it may be said that he had a few good lines, but that is about it.
(“Sex, the innocent sex, that knitteth up the raveled sleeve of care; Balm of hurt minds; Great nature’s second course; Chief nourisher in life’s feast.“)
Basically Willy was a politically-correct hack who wrote for the hoi polloi. He was the Harold Robbins of the Elizabethian theatre — his references to sex and other forbidden topics were so frequent as to inspire a certain Mr Bowdler to issue an expurgated edition of his works — an act which gave us the word ‘bowdlerize’. The Elizabethian theatre itself was less like anything we call ‘theatre’ today than it was akin to a porn parlor with viewing booths, where the little man has to go around to mop up after each viewer has ‘finished’. (In the Elizabethian theatre, chicken bones and other detritus freely littered the floor.) Shakespeare can probably be forgiven his political correctness — in his plays about the royalty of England he would have risked being drawn and quartered had he, for example, pictured Richard III as a hero — and for that matter, Richard deserved the scorn that Willie heaped on him, tho it seems unfair that Will depicted Richard as a cowering loser (“My kingdom for a horse!”) at the battle of Bosworth Field, since a substantial portion of Richard’s troops deserted him before the battle had even begun. But my gripe with Shakespeare is not that he was a hack — hell, Harold Robbins probably made money hand over fist, and who can knock the green stuff? — but rather that people actually study his writing and think of it as ‘literature’. (Well, at least they got the first part right — LITTER.)
Let me put it this way. As to plays, of which Willie wrote a few, these are supposed to at least be fun, and maybe instructive; so if someone has to STUDY them, then he has clearly missed the point — and even worse, teachers never tell you about the sex! As to Shakespeare’s poetry, as represented primarily by his sonnets, Shakespeare showed himself to be both technically deficient and intellectually sparse, as I have shown in my book BETTER THAN SHAKESPEARE: A MODERN AUTHOR DEMONSTRATES SHAKESPEARIAN INCOMPETENCE AND THE ESTABLISHMENT’S CORRUPTON BY REWRITING THE SHAKESPEARIAN SONNETS AND THE POETRY OF OTHER MAJOR AUTHORS.
(“How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…“)
You may obtain this book thru my website, http://www.thebirdman.org, and I strongly suggest you do — perhaps then you can persuade Ygg to include it in his list.
Or to put it another way, the Western canon is shot. Let’s fire it.