The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures
The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry was endowed in 1925 by C.C. Stillman (Harvard 1898). Incumbents are in residence through their tenure of the Chair, and deliver at least six lectures. The term “poetry” is interpreted in the broadest sense, including all poetic expression in language, music, or fine arts.
Previous holders of the Chair include Gilbert Murray (1926–27), T. S. Eliot (1932–33), Igor Stravinsky (1939–40), Paul Hindemith (1949–50), Ben Shahn (1956–57), Leonard Bernstein (1972–73), Frank Stella (1982–84), John Cage (1988–89), and Luciano Berio (1992–93).
Below is a list of in-print works in this collection, presented in series order or publication order as applicable.
The Witness of Poetry
A Nobel laureate reflects upon poetry’s testimony to the events of our tumultuous time.
In Defence of the Imagination
The Use of Poetry and Use of Criticism: Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England
The 1932–33 Norton Lectures are among the best and most important of T. S. Eliot’s critical writings. Tracing the rise of literary self-consciousness from the Elizabethan period to his own day, Eliot does not simply examine the relation of criticism to poetry, but invites us to “start with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, or of what use it is; and try to find out, in examining the relation of poetry to criticism, what the use of both of them is.”
Here is a rare opportunity to view painting through the discerning eyes of one of the world’s foremost abstract painters. Frank Stella uses the crisis of representational art in sixteenth-century Italy to illuminate the crisis of abstraction in our time. Professionals, students, collectors and all lovers of art will find Stella’s non-traditional evaluations of the masters’ work controversial and his fresh concepts wonderfully provocative.
Six Memos for the Next Millennium
"Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement. Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function."
- Italo Calvino
There have never been lectures like these: delivered at Harvard in 1988–89 as the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, they were more like performances, as the audience heard them. John Cage calls them “mesostics,” a literary form generated by chance (in this case computerized I-Ching chance) operations. Using the computer as an oracle in conjunction with a large source text, he happens upon ideas, which produce more ideas. Chance, and not Cage, makes the choices and central decisions. Such a form is rooted, Cage tells us in his introduction, in the belief that “all answers answer all questions.”
Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present
Harold Bloom surveys with majestic view the literature of the West from the Old Testament to Samuel Beckett. In so doing, he uncovers the truth that all our attempts to call any strong work more sacred than another are merely political and social formulations.
Six Walks in the Fictional Woods
In this exhilarating book, we accompany Umberto Eco as he explores the intricacies of fictional form and method. Using examples ranging from fairy tales and Flaubert, Poe and Mickey Spillane, Eco draws us in by means of a novelist’s techniques, making us his collaborators in the creation of his text and in the investigation of some of fiction’s most basic mechanisms.
The Romantic Generation
What Charles Rosen’s celebrated book The Classical Style did for music of the Classical period, The Romantic Generation does for the Romantic era. An exhilarating exploration of the musical language, forms, and styles of the Romantic period, it captures the spirit that enlivened a generation of composers and musicians, and in doing so it conveys the very sense of Romantic music.
Writing and Being
In this deeply resonant book, Nadine Gordimer examines the tension for a writer between life’s experiences and narrative creations. She tries to unravel the mysterious process that breathes "real" life into fiction by exploring the writings of revolutionaries in South Africa and the works of Naguib Mahfouz, Chinua Achebe, and Amos Oz. Ending on a personal note, Gordimer reveals her own experience of "writing her way out of" the confines of a dying colonialism.
One of the greatest living poets in English here explores the work of six writers he often finds himself reading “in order to get started” when writing. Among those whom John Ashbery reads at such times are John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Raymond Roussel, John Wheelwright, Laura Riding, and David Schubert. Less familiar than some, under Ashbery’s scrutiny these poets emerge as the powerful but private and somewhat wild voices whose eccentricity has kept them from the mainstream—and whose vision merits Ashbery’s efforts, and our own, to read them well.
This Craft of Verse
This Craft of Verse captures the cadences, candor, wit, and remarkable erudition of one of the most extraordinary and enduring literary voices of the twentieth century. It stands as a deeply personal yet far-reaching introduction to the pleasures of the word, and as a first-hand testimony to the life of literature.
Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, Fifth Revised and Enlarged Edition
A classic work, first published in 1941, translated into half a dozen languages, and now in a fifth edition, Space, Time and Architecture is an the unparalleled work on the shaping of our architectural environment. The discussions of leading architects—Wright, Gropius, Le Corbusier, Van der Rohe, Aalto, Utzon, Sert, Tange, and Maki—are accompanied by over 500 illustrations.
The Shape of Content
Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons
One of the greatest of contemporary composers has here set down in delightfully personal fashion his general ideas about music and some accounts of his own experience as a composer. Every concert-goer and lover of music will take keen pleasure in his notes about the essential features of music, the process of musical composition, inspiration, musical types, and musical execution.
Sincerity and Authenticity
“Now and then,” writes Lionel Trilling, “it is possible to observe the moral life in process of revising itself.” In this new book he is concerned with such a mutation: the process by which the arduous enterprise of sincerity, of being true to one’s self, came to occupy a place of supreme importance in the moral life—and the further shift which finds that place now usurped by the darker and still more strenuous modern ideal of authenticity.
Lessons of the Masters
When we talk about education today, we tend to avoid the rhetoric of “mastery,” with its erotic and inegalitarian overtones. But the charged personal encounter between master and disciple is precisely what interests George Steiner in this book, a sustained reflection on the infinitely complex and subtle interplay of power, trust, and passions in the most profound sorts of pedagogy.
Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye
Linda Nochlin explores the contradictions and dissonances that mark experience as well as art. Her book confronts the issues posed in representations of the body in the art of impressionists, modern masters, and contemporary realists and post-modernists. In many ways a personal book, Bathers, Bodies, Beauty brings to bear a lifetime of looking at, teaching, talking about, wrestling with, loving, and hating art to reveal and complicate the visceral experience of art.
Remembering the Future
In Remembering the Future, Luciano Berio shares with us some musical experiences that “invite us to revise or suspend our relation with the past and to rediscover it as part of a future trajectory.” His scintillating meditation on music and the ways of experiencing it reflects the composer’s profound understanding of the history and contemporary practice of his art. Berio’s tone is conversational, often playful, punctuated by arresting aphorisms.
Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde, Revised and Enlarged Edition
The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist
What happens within us when we read a novel? And how does a novel create its unique effects, so distinct from those of a painting, a film, or a poem? In this inspired, thoughtful, deeply personal book, Orhan Pamuk takes us into the worlds of the writer and the reader, revealing their intimate connections.
The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting
The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard
Leonard Bernstein’s Norton Lectures on the future course of music drew cheers from his Harvard audiences and television viewers. In the re-creation of his talks, the author considers music ranging from Hindu ragas through Mozart and Ravel to Copland, Shoenberg, and Stravinsky.
The author begins his “nonlectures” with the warning “I haven’t the remotest intention of posing as a lecturer.” These talks contain selections from the poetry of Wordsworth, Donne, Shakespeare, Dante, and others, including e. e. cummings. Together, they form a good introduction to his work.
The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance
Northrop Frye discerns in the innumerable romantic narratives of the Western tradition an imaginative universe stretching from an idyllic world to a demonic one, and a pattern of action taking the form of a cyclical descent into and ascent out of the demonic realm. Romance as a whole is thus seen as forming an integrated vision of the world, a “secular scripture” whose hero is man, paralleling the sacred scripture whose hero is God.
The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative
Drawing on the venerable tradition of biblical interpretation, Frank Kermode examines some enigmatic passages and episodes in the gospels. From his reading come ideas about what makes interpretation possible—and often impossible. He considers ways in which narratives acquire opacity, and he asks whether there are methods of distinguishing all possible meaning from a central meaning which gives the story its structure.