Canon and Creativity: Modern Writing and the Authority of Scripture

Robert Alter, Author Yale University Press $22 (208p) ISBN 978-0-300-08424-5
In an impressive display of literary acuity, veteran UC-Berkeley critic Alter (The Art of Biblical Narrative, etc.) studies the works of three modernist writers while also reexamining the notion of canon. Much of Alter's attention in recent years has been devoted to biblical study, and here he brings his deep knowledge of the biblical text to bear in looking at three works, two familiar to most readers (Kafka's Amerika and Joyce's Ulysses) and a third a more surprising but also gratifying choice (the lengthy poem ""The Dead of the Desert"" by the great Hebrew-language poet Haim Nahman Bialik, with the entire text in translation reprinted here). Alter argues that for these three writers the Bible did indeed serve as a canon but not in the traditional sense of a ""sealed corpus of texts that is the source of all authority and... truths,"" but rather in a literary fashion as a ""luminous poetic achievement,"" a rich field of language, images and motifs to be exploited. For Joyce, for instance, the Bible is a foundational text along with the Odyssey, yet he treats it not as a sacred text but as a ""textual residue, part of the flotsam and jetsam of modern culture,"" little bits and strands of which appear in various characters' stream-of-consciousness. In arguing that the literary canon is more ""quirky and various"" than most people admit, Alter concludes that the biblical canon as well ""is by no means the simple and assured phenomenon of enshrining doctrine in text,"" admitting such contrary points of view as those of Job and Ecclesiastes. This book will appeal only to the lit-crit crowd and to readers interested in the impact of religion on the arts and culture, but for such readers, it displays a dazzling ability to interpret texts, both ancient and modern. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/11/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Only $18.95/month for Digital Access
or $20.95 for Print+Digital Access!
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

PW has integrated its print and digital subscriptions, offering exciting new benefits to subscribers, who are now entitled to both the print edition and the digital editions of PW (online or via our app). For instructions on how to set up your accout for digital access, click here. For more information, click here.

The part of the site you are trying to access is now available to subscribers only. Subscribers: to set up your digital subscription with the new system (if you have not done so already), click here. To subscribe, click here.

Email pw@pubservice.com with questions.

Not Registered? Click here.