RECLAIMING THE CANON by Herman L. Sinaiko

RECLAIMING THE CANON

Essays on Philosophy, Poetry, and History
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Though the title suggests another culture-war screed, this book comprises polished lectures on Homer, Plato, Tolstoy, Conrad, Yeats, and other canonical must-reads. Late in this collection of 20 essays based on classroom lectures, Sinaiko (Humanities/Univ. of Chicago) modestly notes that he left a remunerative and senior administrative position to return to something he loves, teaching. Delivered originally to audiences composed, variously, of University of Chicago undergraduates, Air Force Academy facutly, and members of the Chicago Psychoanalytic Society, these jargon-free, thoroughgoing essays never fail to hit their pedagogic mark. Unsurprisingly, many are centered on the significance of teaching and the search for knowledge, especially in Plato's Socratic dialogue Laches, as well as Tolstoy's artistically tempered didacticism in Anna Karenina and War and Peace, Confucius's Analects and the psychoanalytic procedure. There may not be a common theme linking them--even that of a college-level humanities survey course--but throughout, Sinaiko's attention to textual detail, articulate summaries, and objectivity serve him well. (The temptation to skip taking notes sometimes arises, though, during the mandatory summary of Plato's parable of the cave in the Republic or yet another discussion of Conrad's Heart of Darkness.) The closest he gets to the current controversy over the canon is in an essay on Hume's open-minded ``Of the Standard of Taste.'' There Sinaiko declares he is more worried about deserving works going unappreciated than about the decline of the Great Books, but likewise, the only way to recognize contemporary greatness is to read and reread those works that have stood the test of time. 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. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-300-06529-9
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998




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