Helping Yourself To The Western Canon
The other day I posted something about Ed West's suggestion for a Western Canon Club, where amateurs could get together to learn about the classics of Western art and literature. I asked you readers for advice on where we can do that now. Here are some of your responses:
I'm a humanist who has been gratefully exploring the Western canon via the internet, after having deprogrammed myself from my absurdly expensive, wasteful, postmodernist, woke and useless Ivy League education (BA through PhD).
One of the Internet's silver linings really is the amount of free high-quality material available to those who look for it. I commented on poetry and music on Ed's Substack post but will add additional Christian-themed comments here.
For those fortunate enough to live within range of a university campus, there are many wonderful resources (not, needless to say, provided by the universities themselves). Harvard Catholic historian James Hankins describes the "Offshore Core," a network of institutions funded by the Foundation for Excellence in Higher Education (scroll down for a list) that provide students with the kind of quality education not usually available on elite campuses themselves.
A specifically Catholic counterpart to this is provided by the handful of institutions that make up the In Lumine Network (Collegium Institute at Penn, Lumen Christi at Chicago, etc.). They have outstanding talks, many also available on Zoom. I participated in the Collegium Lent 2021 seminar on Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory - it was truly powerful.
For Catholics, but really for all Christians, the Thomistic Institute sponsors an astonishingly good and broad list of lectures at a long list of campuses (both Zoom and in-person lectures, later published in podcast form0, as well as conferences and retreats. For art in particular, the lectures on Elizabeth Lev's Master's Gallery Rome are unbeatable.
The Zoom Era is really amazing for this. Zena Hitz's Catherine Project basically offers an online Great Books education - for free!
There are more high-quality podcasts than it is possible to listen to: Jennifer Frey's Sacred and Profane Love ; Peter Bouteneff's Luminous from St. Vladimir's ; the Catholic Culture podcast; Faith and Imagination from BYU ; John Miller's Great Books podcast from National Review; Rachel Sherlock's Risking Enchantment ; the Beatrice Institute podcast ; there are many more ...
The bottom line is that, whether through in-person seminars, Zoom talks, or podcasts, it's easier to learn something about Bach, Tolstoy, or Michelangelo than it's ever been before - for free, and from your own home (or not, as desired). I've been doing it myself since COVID first hit, and continued doing so afterwards. On that specific note, I'll recommend some lectures that I've enjoyed over the last two years:
"Sculpture, Iconoclasm, and Reformations of the Spirit: Phenomenological Reflections on Michelangelo" by Dr. Anna Marazuela Kim (Duke Initiatives in Theology and the Arts)
"Anna Karenina and the Project of Literature" by Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel, O.P. (Thomistic Institute)
Just this coming spring, I'll be taking a seminar on "Shakespeare and the Law" from the wonderful Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Eight weeks, $200. This stuff is out there. People just have to look for it!
How encouraging! Another:
The Teaching Company has wonderful courses on how to listen to classical music and grand opera. Good way to start learning what we didn't learn while in school.
Love the idea of a salon, but it would require something or somebody to guide it. Might be where the Teaching Company"s courses comes in.
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Understanding Music: Philosophy and Interpretation. Bloomsbury, 2016.
Music as an Art. Bloomsbury, 2018.
Art and Imagination: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind. St. Augustine’s Press 1998
Bunge, Gabriel [Archimandrite]
The Rublev Trinity. St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2015.