Reclaiming the Canon


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Essays on Philosophy, Poetry, and History

Herman L. Sinaiko; Foreword by Joel Beck

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Herman Sinaiko is renowned for his gifts as a guide to exploring and appreciating the humanities. This book brings to general readers Sinaiko’s thoughts on, and invitations to read or reread, a wide selection of major literary and philosophical works—from ancient Greek to Chinese to modern. Taking a conversational approach, he deals with the perennial questions that thinking people have always raised, and investigates how works of great art may provide answers to these questions.

Sinaiko reestablishes the notion that there is a canon of great works from the great traditions of the world and argues for the existence of permanent standards of excellence. He rejects most contemporary critical views of classical literature and philosophy, including those of "experts" who seek to monopolize access to great works, academics whose extreme emphasis on historical context disallows any current relevance, and theorists whose lenses distort with personal bias rather than sharpening focus on the works they discuss. Sinaiko reclaims the canon for all of us, opening up discussion on texts ranging from Plato to Tolstoy, Confucius to Mary Shelley, and encouraging each reader to listen and respond to the rich diversity of powerful views on the human condition that such great works offer.

Herman L. Sinaiko is professor of humanities at the University of Chicago, where he has received both the Quantrell Award and the Amoco Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching.

"Sinaiko’s essays are interesting, provocative, thick like a good pudding, and contain much original thought. Plato, Confucius, Yeats, Nietzsche, and others—a gala and stimulating Humanities course."—Bennett Simon, M.D., Harvard Medical School

"Everyone suspicious of 'the canon' will be deeply challenged by this book. It is not just that Sinaiko provides tough philosophical defenses, largely based on Plato, of notions like 'truth' and 'beauty' and 'quality.' He illuminates his case with brilliant detailed attention to author after author, from Homer and Herodotus and Confucius to Tolstoy and Freud and Conrad. Unlike too many traditionalists, he assumes that the 'list' can never be closed: at any moment works may be published that rival the greats. And he rightly rejects rote lists of fixed virtues and truths: 'The half-revealing, half-concealing glimpses of the truth are all there is to see.' It is those glimpses that the great works provide; the elusive truth is still 'there,' tempting Sinaiko and his readers to further pursuit."—Wayne Booth, George M. Pullman Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English, University of Chicago

"The more one knows and has studied a work that Sinaiko addresses, the more one appreciates the depth and significance of what he has to say."—Bruce A. Kimball, University of Rochester

"The essays collected in Reclaiming the Canon are the fruits of a lifetime of teaching, mostly to undergraduates. . . . It is grounded in encounters with the texts Sinaiko most values and wants us to ponder. Sinaiko selects what seems to him to be the very best that has been thought and said, largely without considerations of race, gender and class."—Richard Rosengarten, Christian Century

"A distinguished contribution. . . . Sinaiko pays the reader the twin compliments of lucidity and nuance. . . . The familiar will be rendered provocative and the unfamiliar will compel your attention. . . . [A] very accomplished book."—Richard Rosengarten, Christian Century

"Impressive and deeply entertaining essays that reflect decades as a professor of humanities at the University of Chicago. . . . Immensely persuasive."—Penelope Mesic, Chicago Tribune

"Impressive and deeply entertaining."—Penelope Mesic, Chicago Tribune

"The twenty essays collected in Reclaiming the Canon make it clear that both his wisdom and his enthusiasm are infectious, something that his students have known for years."—Sanford Pinsker, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Sinaiko has devoted his life to reading, thinking, talking, and writing about the Great Books. The 20 essays collected in Reclaiming the Canon make it clear that both his wisdom and his enthusiasm are infectious, something that his students have known for decades. [The] essays [are] as diverse as they are multicultural. Sinaiko has the delightful habit of pairing in his essays writers who reflect on each other in unexpected, but very revealing ways. Best of all, Sinaiko sees the canon as great works in tension (and often great disagreement) with one another." —Sanford Pinsker

"This book comprises polished lectures on Homer, Plato, Tolstoy, Conrad, Yeats, and other canonical must-reads. . . Reclaiming the Canon makes it easy to see why Sinaiko has been twice distinguished for excellence in undergraduate teaching and why he takes his revered occupation so seriously: old-style, no-nonsense humanities taught with thorough grounding and relish."—Kirkus Reviews

"[A] fine book, probing and impressively humane."—Choice

ISBN: 9780300065299
Publication Date: March 30, 1998
352 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4