Wednesday, May 18, 2005


This is actually something one of my students asked me in an interview, and I’ve been playing it with people and it’s just so much fun, and the same thing keeps happening –everyone knows exactly who to put in slots 1-8 (but exactly – well, maybe a little dithering around slots 3 and 4, but only a bit): but then when they hit slots 9 and 10 they’re stuck. They can’t commit.

Here’s the question.

You have to – HAVE TO – build a DWEM canon.

It HAS to be Dead White European Males.

No fair trying to sneak Sappho or some African in there, either.

It’s THE canon of DWEMs.

What ten guys do you pick?

Here’s my ten guys:

1. The Bible (counts as one guy and leave me alone, cause it does.)
2. Homer
3. Plato (I count Socrates as part of Plato and you can leave me alone about that one too.)
4. Herodotus (mr. delagar gives me shit over this one, but read him some time, the guy invented history)
5. Ovid (I considered Virgil, but he's just Homer redux, and Ovid is actually doing something new and interesting, not to mention he's mocking Augustus's drive for Family Values, and look what it got him, Tumis is what it got him, also Ovid has a huge influence on Western Lit from this point on, so Ovid, definitely)
6. Chaucer
7. Shakespeare
8. Milton
9. ……
10. …….

Maybe Freud for nine? Or Darwin? Possibly Chekhov…Rrrrr….But who for ten? Is there a ten?

See, I’m stuck. And everyone I know gets stuck there.

This says something. But I'm not sure what.


Anonymous said...

Dickens--master of the novel.

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

I'll try it, using slightly more modern European folks--wish I could include Americans!--:

1. Montaigne (the first modern essayist and still highly readable)

2. Charles Dickens (his insight and levity are powerfully realized)

3. Charles Darwin (read him with a Stephen Jay Gould companion essay or two)

4. Albert Einstein (maybe we can understand relativity together, class!)

5. Victor Serge (a words-eye view of the Russian Revolution and the etiology of the 20th Century revolutionary world)

6. Mozart (modern music begins with Mozart)

7. Beethoven (but of course what else could possibly follow Mozart?)

8. Adam Smith (because he is more radical and community oriented than most people assume)

9. Karl Marx (it would be fun to show how he and Smith overlap in their sensibilities!)

10. John Locke (empiricism and individualism is an important element in modern Western thought and economic development of the West in general; though Professor Dahl's "A Preface to Economic Democracy" shows how interpretations of Locke are often too limited to a hyped-up sense of individualism)

Funny. I got stuck at 10...I think, however, I was stuck because it was the last slot and I started thinking too hard about it. I wanted Locke originally, but hesitated, thinking about Montesquieu, John Stuart Mill, Spinoza, Bach, Bismarck, and others and trying to find the "appropriate" Dead White European Male. That's why I realized I had to stick with John Locke--because he was really fundamental to me and should have been listed earlier!

Still, a useful and fairly enlightening exercise.

delagar said...

Ooo...Smith & Marx. Can't believe I didn't think of them. They'd go very nicely for the 10 slot. But which? Darwin or Freud for 9 and Adam Smith or Karl Marx for 10...see, I'm still stuck.

Anonymous said...

Er . . . I would agree pretty much with your 1 - 8, but I can't believe you left out Samuel Johnson. Compiler of the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language? He'd better be in there.

delagar said...

See, Trina, this is why we start getting cranky right there around #8. Johnson's a good pick. I can see why you want him. But is he more influential than Freud? Is he massively influential in the way Plato was? That's why I leave off Dickens, btw -- he's all right, and I do like David Cooperfield, but did he change the face of the Western World the way Plato did? So -- does Johnson do that?

Eh -- maybe. You can make the case that he invents dictionaries as we know them. Is that enough to put him on the list?

zelda1 said...

Okay here goes my list:
1. Gilgamesh even if he isn't quite a European, he did do the first actual writings and his flood story, well, I think it tops, Moses'.
Then I agree with you down to 8, I would add Marx, and because I like Carl Jung so much and I know he isn't a European male or is he? I don't agree with the guy about Dickens, although, he is a great writer and his writings did create some changes in society. I might put Thomas Kydd in place of Milton or maybe in place of Shakespear. Does it have to just be ten?
And what about the ten women.
Elliot, Austin, Shelly, Browning, Rossetti, Trollope, Kingsley, Bronte, and then I'd have to switch to American writers of which the list would go long past ten.