Canon Fodder


Amid cries that barbarians are at the gate and that beloved Shakespeare is sleeping with the fishes, cultural conservatives can take comfort in a new course being offered to undergraduates at the State University of New York at Buffalo–a school better known for a maverick intellectual tradition (French social critic Michel Foucault got his first American teaching gig there in the 1970s) than its respect for tradition.

Called "The Literary Top Ten," the course's reading list was culled from a survey that asked 2,100 faculty members to list the 10 books they would most like their own children to have read by the time they graduated college. The final line-up: selections from the Bible; Homer's Iliad or Odyssey; Plato's Republic; Shakespeare's Hamlet; a unit made up of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers; Melville's Moby Dick; Dickens's Great Expectations; Darwin's Origin of the Species; Freud's Interpretation of Dreams; and a Tolstoy novel.

English Department Chair Kenneth Dauber, who oversaw the survey and course development, expressed bemused satisfaction with the traditionalist bent of the selections. "As keepers of the sacred flame, I guess the faculty consider these texts the best vehicles for the ideas they'd like to see passed on," he told an alumni newsletter. "We got what we asked for…a list of books that incorporate the ideas and values that an educated person living in America in the late 20th century would like to be conveyed to the next generation."