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Thread: Bloom vs. Derrida & de Man

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    Bloom vs. Derrida & de Man

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200307u/int2003-07-16

    Some Bloom quotes:

    "Then, after fighting the New Criticism so endlessly, I suddenly found myself fighting the Deconstructionists, another group of people who were and are my personal friends. Except for one—I don't talk to Derrida anymore."

    "Throughout the English-speaking world, the wave of French theory was replaced by the terrible mélange that I increasingly have come to call the School of Resentment—the so-called multiculturalists and feminists who tell us we are to value a literary work because of the ethnic background or the gender of the author."

    "if you say meaning is always wandering, always in exile, always going from one apparent signifier to another, pragmatically, as William James put it, only a difference that makes a difference really is a difference. And pragmatically, there seems to me no difference between teaching an absolute dearth of meaning and an absolute plenitude."

    "My friend Paul de Man ... would tell me that after a lifetime of searching, he had found the method, the "Troot," as he put it—that Belgian pronunciation of "Truth." I would say, "No, dear Paul, there is no Truth. There is only the Self."

    "What theory did the great critics have? Critics like Dr. Samuel Johnson or William Hazlitt? Those who adopt a theory are simply imitating somebody else. I believe firmly that, in the end, all useful criticism is based upon experience. An experience of teaching, an experience of reading, one's experience of writing—and most of all, one's experience of living. Just as wisdom, in the end, is purely personal. There can be no method except the Self."

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    ésprit de l’escalier DanielBenoit's Avatar
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    I agree with some of what he says, and I certainly appretiate his deep passion for Shakespeare. But, I think he fails to recognize the contribution New Criticism, deconstruction, multiculturalism and the like has made to literary cricism. I do find his sweeping statements on the Western Canon and other things to be quite naive, and I find his self-rightuous dogmatism on what's good literature and what's not to be quite childish and stupid.

    In the end, the best part of him is his passion (which is what made Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human so enjoyable), with the worst side of him being his strictly conservative view of literaure (such as completely stopping at Hart Crane in his Best Poems in the English Language anthology).

    *edit*

    Also I would also like to bring up, as many did in the Nabokov vs. Joyce discussion, is that Bloom hasn't really brought anything new to the table, not since the 70s' at least, and practically everything he writes from then on is recycled from Samuel Johnson, or is simply something made for the masses and holds little importance in the academic world. I mean, who could take his Western Canon seriously? Besides, most of the titles in his list are titles that any literary minded person knows is worth reading.
    Last edited by DanielBenoit; 08-26-2009 at 12:50 PM.
    The Moments of Dominion
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    And leave it with a Discontent
    Too exquisite — to tell —
    -Emily Dickinson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVW8GCnr9-I
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckGIvr6WVw4

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    Very clever of you and Bloom to throw de Man in it to start with. This discussion is going to be biased and will rotate around personalities and will, eventually bog down. What are we comparing here? A critic, a philosopher and a theorist! Apples, oranges and grapes! Let's see where it takes. I am no expert on de Man but other two I know a bit or two about still they are so different and the range of their influence and activity is so incomparable that this does not look promising to start with. Very ambitious but ... Anybody else to come aboard RMS Titanic?
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Derrida is the big daddy of everything - essentially unreadable, yet at the same time, unquestionably influential and brilliant. Whether Bloom agrees or disagrees isn't the point - when you start thinking in terms of Deconstruction, even if it is only looking at specific constructions or aspects of constructions, you still would get farther, given the ability for it to break things down.

    As for de Man, his theoretical work has always been a little bit interesting - The Rhetoric of Romanticism particularly I thought, from what I have read of his, was well put together.

    I think de Man right now is kind of tricky to deal with - after his wartime writing came to light, he sort of became this crazy politically incorrect besmeared leper. That really complicates the discussion somewhat, as I think the academy just tried to forget him altogether, rather than negotiate a sort of Wagnerian appeasement of liking the work but not the author.

    Either way though, from what I can gather, de Man was the king of the American theory world during his life, and perhaps the most influential American personality, in terms of American deconstructionism. I think it is easy for Bloom to rip on Derrida and de Man, the incomprehensible philosopher, and the Anti-Semitic literary theorist, especially after they are dead, but either way, he hasn't really said much about their works, other than he disagrees - he hasn't questioned new criticism at all (though, from his work, I think he equates new criticism with T. S. Eliot, and not with Empson, despite them both being what are described as "new critics") there, he merely dismissed it since, either people don't know about it, or people know enough to know it has been superseded by other camps of thought. The critical vocabulary though that he would use, if he wasn't too preoccupied with catalogs, would most definitely be lifted from new critics anyway though, and he knows it - the actual dialogue, especially in poetry, really comes from there, and cannot be ignored.


    That being said, I don't see him as "facing off" against anyone - in the 70s when the Madwoman in the Attic was published, he was even mentioned in the Acknowledgments as a helpful adviser and contributor, and a great influence on the text. I think most feminist critics either don't take him seriously, or just ignore him - he never mentions anyone he has disputed with by name, unless it is his "old friend..." or whomever, long dead and done with, and not about to come back and rebut.


    In all honesty, I don't think a vs Derrida and de Man is really there - Bloom was a deconstructionist in the past, but ditched that band wagon I guess when it stopped being polemic, and started being just generally accepted. In the same sense, before that I think he was (though he still is to a very large extent) a Frye idolater, but that he doesn't mention because he knows everything he has said has already been said by Frye, except for the value judgments, which Frye hated making, and which made Bloom famous.


    But then again, we can always just let the works speak for themselves (well, perhaps Derrida's don't speak too clearly). Why not pick up the Rhetoric of Romanticism or some other such text, and see for oneself - maybe you'll like it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DanielBenoit View Post
    ... who could take his Western Canon seriously?
    Christopher Ricks, Malcolm Bradbury, James Wood, Peter Ackroyd, Allan Massie, M.H. Abrams, Richard Poirier, Anthony Hect, Richard Howard, Norman Fruman, Rovert Alter, Frank McConnell...

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    ésprit de l’escalier DanielBenoit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Christopher Ricks, Malcolm Bradbury, James Wood, Peter Ackroyd, Allan Massie, M.H. Abrams, Richard Poirier, Anthony Hect, Richard Howard, Norman Fruman, Rovert Alter, Frank McConnell...
    Yeah but as JBI pointed out in the other thread, it's nothing but cataloging. As literary criticism, it's meaningless.
    The Moments of Dominion
    That happen on the Soul
    And leave it with a Discontent
    Too exquisite — to tell —
    -Emily Dickinson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVW8GCnr9-I
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckGIvr6WVw4

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    Originally Posted by DanielBenoit View Post
    ... who could take his Western Canon seriously?
    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Christopher Ricks, Malcolm Bradbury, James Wood, Peter Ackroyd, Allan Massie, M.H. Abrams, Richard Poirier, Anthony Hect, Richard Howard, Norman Fruman, Rovert Alter, Frank McConnell...
    When and where???
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

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    ésprit de l’escalier DanielBenoit's Avatar
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    Not only that, but again (as has been reiterated plenty of times in the Nabokov Joyce thread), how has Bloom's post-Anxiety work been relevant to literary criticism in the past twenty years. Hell, the only reason why he's so popular is because he wrote a highly influencial book in the 70's. Now I know that he wrote an essay on Wallace Stevens and Deconstruction, which I have not read, but what of his Western Canon, Genius, cataloging period, which is still going on. How are they relevant?
    The Moments of Dominion
    That happen on the Soul
    And leave it with a Discontent
    Too exquisite — to tell —
    -Emily Dickinson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVW8GCnr9-I
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckGIvr6WVw4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kafka's Crow View Post
    When and where???
    I just took the names straight of the first two pages of "the Western canon", all of them beside quotes signing his praises. The back page has:

    Frank Kermode, Michael Dirda, and A.S. Byatt

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    I would point that they are spawns of Bakhtin, who is really original beyond anything the anxiety of influence can be (which is just a freudian reading of influence. I does not work for several authors, at least the part of anxiety.) when analysed Dostoievisky and pulled a theory that could cope how the influence and originality works together.
    Anyways, If serious critics are getting the Book Western Canon seriously when studing or teaching then something is wrong. If they are just giving support to Bloom fight against his chimeras and thus supporting his main banner (the canon) then it is just normal and not that relevant.

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    Bloom seems to be very anti-fundamentalism:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYd8RoL4ZjA

    but as a literary critic I find him purist and fundamentalist. He advocates closures. His definition of the canon is narrow and hence lack of seriousness about his work in contemporary critical discourse. Closure, in contemporary world, is the enemy. We need more openness as truth is become very difficult to pin-point and is diversified in so many different forms, real and faked (Baudrillard's "simulacra") that openness and continual critical (re)appraisal is become of essential importance. Bloom has problem with 'difference' or "différence" but that is the only way forward as it opens different wayS forward. Belief in One is fundamentalism. "Beware of the man with only one book", beware of the man with only one (closed) canon! Deconstruction "breaks nutshells wherever it finds them." (Derrida Decostruction in a Nutshell). Bloom is Derrida's opposite. Where Derrida asks for open discourse, Bloom advocates closed conversations. Derrida accepts the possibilities of diversity and continuity of meaning, Bloom's conservative approach goes against this method. Derrida puts criticism at the centre of existence, Bloom's approach specializes this activity and limits it to a canon which is exclusive. You can not present a whole civilisation in a "nutshell". Main difference between Derrida and Bloom: Derrida is dead but more alive than Bloom who is alive but ceased to exert any influence long time ago!
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

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    ésprit de l’escalier DanielBenoit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JCamilo View Post
    Anyways, If serious critics are getting the Book Western Canon seriously when studing or teaching then something is wrong. If they are just giving support to Bloom fight against his chimeras and thus supporting his main banner (the canon) then it is just normal and not that relevant.
    Exactly, I don't have much of a problem with Bloom anyway. It's just when people start revering him as the absolute authority or that he is one of the leading literary critics today, is when I get mad. I frankly enjoy Bloom's criticism, for I just love drowning myself in his endless praise of Shakespeare.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kafka's Crow View Post

    but as a literary critic I find him purist and fundamentalist. He advocates closures. His definition of the canon is narrow and hence lack of seriousness about his work in contemporary critical discourse. Closure, in contemporary world, is the enemy. We need more openness as truth is become very difficult to pin-point and is diversified in so many different forms, real and faked (Baudrillard's "simulacra") that openness and continual critical (re)appraisal is become of essential importance. Bloom has problem with 'difference' or "différence" but that is the only way forward as it opens different wayS forward. Belief in One is fundamentalism. "Beware of the man with only one book", beware of the man with only one (closed) canon! Deconstruction "breaks nutshells wherever it finds them." (Derrida Decostruction in a Nutshell). Bloom is Derrida's opposite. Where Derrida asks for open discourse, Bloom advocates closed conversations. Derrida accepts the possibilities of diversity and continuity of meaning, Bloom's conservative approach goes against this method. Derrida puts criticism at the centre of existence, Bloom's approach specializes this activity and limits it to a canon which is exclusive. You can not present a whole civilisation in a "nutshell". Main difference between Derrida and Bloom: Derrida is dead but more alive than Bloom who is alive but ceased to exert any influence long time ago!
    Couldn't have said it better!

    Call me crazy, but I enjoy reading Derrida.
    The Moments of Dominion
    That happen on the Soul
    And leave it with a Discontent
    Too exquisite — to tell —
    -Emily Dickinson
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVW8GCnr9-I
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckGIvr6WVw4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kafka's Crow View Post
    Bloom seems to be very anti-fundamentalism . . . but as a literary critic I find him purist and fundamentalist . . . He advocates closures. His definition of the canon is narrow and hence lack of seriousness about his work in contemporary critical discourse. Closure, in contemporary world, is the enemy . . . Bloom is Derrida's opposite. Where Derrida asks for open discourse, Bloom advocates closed conversations. Derrida accepts the possibilities of diversity and continuity of meaning, Bloom's conservative approach goes against this method. Derrida puts criticism at the centre of existence, Bloom's approach specializes this activity and limits it to a canon which is exclusive. You can not present a whole civilisation in a "nutshell". Main difference between Derrida and Bloom: Derrida is dead but more alive than Bloom who is alive but ceased to exert any influence long time ago!
    As an aesthete, I hardly know how one should find Bloom any other way. He has based his almost entire career off of the aesthetic perspective upon literature, which, proven the human subjectivity of perception in Kant's Critique of Pure Judgment, seems difficult to argue for or against, explaining, often times, his vague defences against such ideas as deconstruction, etc. I have no plan upon insulting such a great mind as Bloom's, but his rebuttals against Derrida (whom I have grown to admire) and de Man (whom I unfortunately know little of) seem more the Sophist's argument against logic and analysis by way of, I agree with you, Kafka's Crow, purism and fundamentalism, than something worth considering beyond his compositions written decades ago.

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    (Pardon my ignorance, but one of the names mentioned is new to me -- de Man.)

    Our culture* really needs critics such as Harold Bloom and his ideological opposite yet intellectual equal, Edmund Wilson, (remember him?) to keep interest in what was once called the "classics" alive.

    I do believe that Bloom's Western Canon arose from a real fear that inclusion of literature from alternative cultures might push out interest for more conventional writers (Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and the like.) Personally, I don't see how reading feminist or third-world works would necessarily expunge the works of "dead white men." We have to make room for all of it.

    Still, if you look at some high school curricula you might be surprised at what's missing there. I think the omissions are more due to the general "dumbing down" of education rather than to deliberate and intentional service to "political correctness." This hurts young people, I believe, because it starts from the assumption that they aren't intellectually capable of comprehending strenuous thought. We should not sell them so short, methinks.

    As to Derrida and his fellow deconstructionists, I think there is some value there as well, but again "desconstructionism" shouldn't be the only literary theory used in college literature classes. I know about at least one Ph.D. program where Derrida, and only Derrida, is taught.

    * The famous quotation erroneously attributed to Goering:
    "Whenever I hear the word 'culture,' I release the safety-catch on my pistol." According to the Little, Brown Book of quotations someone named Hanns Johst said this.
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 08-27-2009 at 11:57 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by AuntShecky View Post
    (Our culture* really needs critics such as Harold Bloom and his ideological opposite yet intellectual equal, Edmund Wilson, (remember him?) to keep interest in what was once called the "classics" alive.

    I do believe that Bloom's Western Canon arose from a real fear that inclusion of literature from alternative cultures might push out interest for more conventional writers (Shakespeare, Milton, Pope and the like.) Personally, I don't see how reading feminist or third-world works would necessarily expunge the works of "dead white men." We have to make room for all of it.

    Still, if you look at some high school curricula you might be surprised at what's missing there. I think the omissions are more due to the general "dumbing down" of education rather than to deliberate and intentional service to "political correctness." This hurts young people, I believe, because it starts from the assumption that they aren't intellectually capable of comprehending strenuous thought. We should not sell them so short, methinks.

    As to Derrida and his fellow deconstructionists, I think there is some value there as well, but again "desconstructionism" shouldn't be the only literary theory used in college literature classes. I know about at least one Ph.D. program where Derrida, and only Derrida, is taught.
    Agreed. Deconstructionism is useful, but it isn't the all encompassing theory some believe it to be. If we determine that a text has no meaning and every meaning at once, then what in the hell are we getting at? If we contend that there is no such thing as objective truth, then again, what is the purpose of textual studies?

    I've studied deconstructionism in college, and I always secretly suspected that Derrida was full of crap--that he died laughing his *** off at the notion that people believed him.

    I much prefer Bloom.

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