100 great ideas, one small post.

I liked Simon Winder’s reflection on Penguin’s “Great Ideas” series. I only bought two of the books: Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents (#19), and Hazlitt’s On the Pleasures of Hating (#12). I bought the former because I didn’t yet own a copy, and the latter because I was curious about Hazlitt who, as Winder observes, is rather talked about, but doesn’t seem to get published much anymore. It was tempting to buy more: everything about the series, from the compact size to the simple covers with their bold or elegant typefaces, is aesthetically pleasing. And at $9.99 (Can), the books really are friendly towards one of their intended demographics: the student — though perhaps not all of us are morbid and sexually confused (actually, we mostly are those things). Generally, I didn’t buy the books because I already tended to own copies of the works in various anthologies or annotated editions. A fact which seems to suggest that it’s not only Penguin’s series that continues to be Eurocentric and phallocentric, but that the cannon of English literature — the one that structures the everyday English undergraduate degree — also still heavily draws on the Eurocentric and phallocentric.

Not new news at all. But Penguin shouldn’t bear all the blame.

29 August 2010 ~ Hamilton

And yes, I’m tempted to write in and explain why Ben should have made the cut. He would have at least gotten more readers than Thomas Browne. (Or so I tell myself, in order to sleep at night.)


3 thoughts on “100 great ideas, one small post.

  1. Ben? Ben who’s that or am I missing something ? All I know is that ‘Urn-Burial’ has been considered one of the great works of Eng. Lit. for over 300 years and read and loved by generations; however I’m also rather glad that Penguin got their fingers burnt on yet another edition of ‘Urn-Burial’ by itself because it’s only one of two works which the author intended to be published together. So until a publisher bites the bullet and prints ‘Urn-Burial’ with ‘The Garden of Cyrus’ i.e. BOTH Discourses together, then it will always be a case of the Iliad without the Odyssey, the Old Testament without the New and Inferno without Paradiso.

  2. Ben Jonson, of course. Timber, or Discoveries might have made the cut: it too, has been one of the most anthologised works of English literature (though I think it, even more than Browne’s work, has been mostly confined to an academic readership, while other works in the Great Ideas series have had much wider readerships outside academia in the last century).

    I do wish that The Garden of Cyrus was more frequently published — though I also think Browne in general, and most early modern prose deserves more attention than it’s likely to get. Jonson would be horrified to learn that his “not for an age but for all time” line gets published in almost every Shakespeare anthology, but that most people have no idea who Ben Jonson was. (In Canada, I usually have to explain that I’m not writing on an Olympic sprinter.)

    (Also, I’m excessively excited to learn there is a Thomas Browne blog in the world.)

    • And I do suspect that Browne’s essay would get more readers. Jonson’s Timber, as a commonplace book, is something of an unfamiliar genre for current readers. But I have to console myself with fantastical lies about Jonson’s popularity.

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