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Thread: Harold Bloom

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    Harold Bloom

    The great literary critic Harold Bloom is releasing his new book The Daemon Knows this week on Thursday. in light of that, I decided to start a thread dedicated to Harold Bloom.

    My own thoughts: whatever my disagreements with Bloom, I think he is one of the most worthwhile literary critics. I also enjoy his defense of Western literature, as well as the deep love that exudes from his celebratory criticism. Whatever his problems, I can't help but love such a person.

    What are your thoughts on Bloom? Is he great? Is he not?

    What is his best work? What are your thoughts on his defense of the Western Canon, his own "anxiety of influence" and "school of resentment" theses, and his other ideas?

    I would personally rank Harold Bloom as one of the greatest literary intellectuals of all time, personally.

  2. #2
    I've said many times that I love his passion and articulation in defending great literature. I don't agree with everything he's ever said, but he's introduced me to numerous great writers, given me new perspectives on writers I already knew and every time I read him, I'm so eager to crack open a book, because he has a way of getting the literary juices flowing, because he predominantly talks about literature as literature, not as an ideological pissing contest.

    I look forward to The Daemon Knows, I love his writings on Dickinson, Emerson and Whitman already, so seeing him talk about them again as well as 9 other great American authors is right up my alley.

    People bring up the fact that his pronouncements about the death of quality literary courses at universities is overblown (the classics are still being taught regularly), but the pernicious influence of the School of Resentment types has undoubtedly seeped into wider culture in my age group, and I think it's something that should be argued against (and separated from literary criticism, because ultimately, it's social criticism, not literary) because too often it reduces literature to an ideological tool used for their own benefit.

    Great art should always be defended on it's own merits, and whilst I may not agree with every one of Bloom's theories (The Book of J. stuff for example), he is one of the most passionate and ardent defenders of the great art of literature.
    Vladimir: (sententious.) To every man his little cross. (He sighs.) Till he dies. (Afterthought.) And is forgotten.

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    ^ exactly Pierre. Let's get stlukesguild and Pike Bishop while we're at it. I would love their thoughts on this thread

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    Pike's here.

    I guess I'm a Harold Bloom moderate, in that I usually disagree with both those who find him archaic, arrogant, and/or useless; and with those who hold him up as a pioneer in the field. The best thing about Bloom is he's an unabashed literature fan, who is also extremely well-read, extremely intelligent, and can communicate that knowledge to others in a very readable fashion. There aren't many of those around any more, so Bloom definitely has his value. One of the negative things about Bloom is--except perhaps in The Anxiety of Influence--he refuses to analyze his own critical position and instead posits his analyses as a brilliant man whose evaluations of literary works should not be questioned. He also, perhaps out of frustration with the superior critic Paul De Man, attacked all post/structuralist, feminist, and other critical approaches he disliked without ever giving them the due analysis required of an academic of his station and caliber. This was ironic, since The Anxiety of Influence was extremely theoretical in its reliance on Freudian Psychoanalytic theory. It has also limited the theoretical and/or philosophical caliber and value of his work.

    As to his books, I've only read The Anxiety of Influence, most of The Book of J, The Western Canon, Jesus and Yahweh, and Shakespeare: The Birth of the Human. So, I'm not qualified to comment on his entire ouevre. I can say that the first one is an excellent analysis of the artistic process and how one can compare texts to their "predecessors." The Western Canon had some incisive readings, but it was weighed down by archaic bluster. The Birth of the Human had some nice readings; the man knows his Shakespeare. However they weren't as complex as Greenblatt's or Ferguson's. Jesus and Yahwheh and Book of J both showed him to be a very intelligent Biblical reader. His knowledge of the Bible and how to approach it is very impressive but, again, none of his conclusions were particularly scintillating.

    So, I definitely appreciate and respect Bloom and value his contributions. He just has never been one of those scholars whose keen, potent literary insights inspired or influenced me greatly.
    Last edited by Pike Bishop; 05-11-2015 at 03:59 PM.

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    ^ cool. Guess I like him more than you, but thanks bro

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    No problem, dude. I'm sure we'll disagree on another critic someday. But like I said, I have nothing but respect for the man's mind and knowledge.

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    ^ me too

    Bloom earns my respect too.

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    My feelings about Bloom are pretty much the same as member Pierre Menard's. I love his passion for great books and his belief that "great books" still exist. I will be the first to admit that he led me to a greater appreciation of many writers I was already familiar with, and turned me on to a good number of marvelous writers that I wasn't... and I cannot think of a greater achievement for a critic. Pessoa, Montale, Landolfi, McCarthy, Gore Vidal, Flannery O'Conner and Machado de Assis immediately come to mind as but a few of the writers that I came to through Bloom. I don't agree with everything he has written or every assessment he has made of a writer... but then I cannot think of any critic who is/was without fault.
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pierre Menard View Post
    but the pernicious influence of the School of Resentment types has undoubtedly seeped into wider culture in my age group, and I think it's something that should be argued against (and separated from literary criticism, because ultimately, it's social criticism, not literary) because too often it reduces literature to an ideological tool used for their own benefit.
    Pierre, I missed your post, just read it, and was curious about it. What exactly do you consider to be the School of Resentment, what is its pernicious influence, and how has it seeped into the culture of your age group? And who are these critics you bemoan, what are some of their works, and how have they been used as ideological tools for their own benefit? I have definitely encountered some bad critics in my life, but I have never encountered any as awful as those you discuss.

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    Cool view, stlukesguild. Pretty much close to mine

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    Bloom left me with the idea that Bathsheba wrote the J version of Genesis and that is how I understand it now. Couple that idea with those of Baruch Halpern's "David's Secret Demons", which studied the events in Samuel and Kings, and I am convinced that Bathsheba and Nathan played a critical role about 3000 years ago.

    I tried reading other things that Bloom wrote, but I didn't get much out of it.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Pike Bishop View Post
    Pierre, I missed your post, just read it, and was curious about it. What exactly do you consider to be the School of Resentment, what is its pernicious influence, and how has it seeped into the culture of your age group? And who are these critics you bemoan, what are some of their works, and how have they been used as ideological tools for their own benefit? I have definitely encountered some bad critics in my life, but I have never encountered any as awful as those you discuss.

    Similar to Bloom's description. Marxist analysis, Identity Politics, Gender Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, etc. Now, it's not to say these disciplines by and large can't add to interesting discourse, however I find that discourse mostly limited to philosophical or social studies. As a form of literary criticism, I often find it's practitioners (by this I mean students, bloggers, review sites that adhere to it, etc) insular and self-serving, with little to nothing to add to the appreciation of literature. The pernicious influence I talk about is using literature (and art in general) as an ideological tool designed to serve your own interests. Beyond that, it's the same thing I see everyday all over the internet, rejecting art because you disagree with it ideologically. I can't abide by that, and find it a childish way to view art. Now, ideological dismissals of art have always been around, this to me, is just it's modern form, but I still feel it something to argue against.

    Now, as I was saying, I think people are right that on a syllabus and teaching level, Bloom is overblowing things to an extent, these courses are a minority and classics still get taught regularly, and most of the great critics are able to weigh up ideological differences and still express the quality of that art, but the discourse as a whole on a wider level, on an audience level is weaker because of the aforementioned 'resentment types' I feel. I come across a lot of 'This art work from the past doesn't align to my modern day ethics completely, therefore I dismiss it' types of thinking, as opposed to a more reasoned and nuanced approach to the work. And that's ultimately my issue - complex, nuanced appreciation of art that differs from your ideological outlook is a must when discussing and appreciating the history of an art form, outright dismissal is insular and childish to me, but I see it often.

    I also accept there may very well be some people who have good intentions in these courses, and are simply interested on focusing on a type of literature that has a personal relevance to them, but it's not usually these folk who are the loud, blustery and overly-idelogical ones.
    Vladimir: (sententious.) To every man his little cross. (He sighs.) Till he dies. (Afterthought.) And is forgotten.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pierre Menard View Post
    1.Similar to Bloom's description. Marxist analysis, Identity Politics, Gender Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, etc. Now, it's not to say these disciplines by and large can't add to interesting discourse, however I find that discourse mostly limited to philosophical or social studies. As a form of literary criticism, I often find it's practitioners (by this I mean students, bloggers, review sites that adhere to it, etc) insular and self-serving, with little to nothing to add to the appreciation of literature.

    2. The pernicious influence I talk about is using literature (and art in general) as an ideological tool designed to serve your own interests. Beyond that, it's the same thing I see everyday all over the internet, rejecting art because you disagree with it ideologically. I can't abide by that, and find it a childish way to view art. Now, ideological dismissals of art have always been around, this to me, is just it's modern form, but I still feel it something to argue against.

    3. I come across a lot of 'This art work from the past doesn't align to my modern day ethics completely, therefore I dismiss it' types of thinking, as opposed to a more reasoned and nuanced approach to the work. And that's ultimately my issue - complex, nuanced appreciation of art that differs from your ideological outlook is a must when discussing and appreciating the history of an art form, outright dismissal is insular and childish to me, but I see it often.

    I also accept there may very well be some people who have good intentions in these courses, and are simply interested on focusing on a type of literature that has a personal relevance to them, but it's not usually these folk who are the loud, blustery and overly-idelogical ones.
    1. You are aware there are many talented Marxist Scholars, Gender scholars, and Post-Colonial scholars who have done excellent work in literary criticism; identity politics is not an area of study. Some of these scholars include Frederic Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Edward Said, Iban Hassan, Homhi Babha, Elaine Scarry, Toril Moi, Margaret Ferguson, Stephen Greenblatt, Houston Baker, and Henry Louis Gates. Which of these critics have you found to be "insular and self-serving" and why? Also, you are aware that any critical approach--even just reading the "text"--can be insular and self-serving.

    2. Again, you are being a little vague here. As I said before, any critical approach--explicitly theoretical or not--can be used as an ideological tool. Many of the New Critics who espoused reading only for the "text" had their ideologies as well. And you certainly can't hold a theoretical approach responsible for its terrible internet adherents. There are internet idiots espousing anything.

    3. I have been a literature teacher for 20 years. I have never encountered a fellow scholar dismiss a text in any criticism for not fitting their present day morals; most great works of literature don't. So, I think you're being a bit alarmist. If you can provide me with some scholarship that does that I will stand corrected.

    4. Finally, what exactly are your problems with these following schools of criticism and why--Marxist criticism, Psychoanalytic Criticism (which Bloom practiced), Feminist criticism, and Post-Colonial criticism/Race-oriented criticism. What are your specific problems with these schools of criticism practiced by thousands of scholars throughout the world?
    Last edited by Pike Bishop; 05-13-2015 at 11:56 AM.

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    I read and loved his book on Shakespeare. Whether you agree with his central argument, that Shakespeare somehow laid down the archetypes of modern personality, it is a beautifully written celebration of the plays, and a wonderful introduction to them. He wrote some very interesting stuff on Milton and Blake as well. I am also with him in his contempt for the rigid, narrow categories into which modern critics try to jam great literature (feminist, post-colonial, multicultural, post-modern, post-feminist etc etc). And I share his view that many of these critics don't even like literature, seeing it instead as a means to further their left wing, 'post-whatever' agenda. It is a shame he is so old now. Who will succeed him? The university I went to was so dominated by trendy, left-wing multiculturalists that I was afraid to open my mouth. My tutor was an aggressive, touchy young black woman who specialized in writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. She seemed to know little about (and care even less) the canon, which no doubt she privately dismissed as a conspiracy to keep ethnic minorities in their place. Bloom is right to be pessimistic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by WICKES View Post
    I read and loved his book on Shakespeare. Whether you agree with his central argument, that Shakespeare somehow laid down the archetypes of modern personality, it is a beautifully written celebration of the plays, and a wonderful introduction to them. He wrote some very interesting stuff on Milton and Blake as well. I am also with him in his contempt for the rigid, narrow categories into which modern critics try to jam great literature (feminist, post-colonial, multicultural, post-modern, post-feminist etc etc). And I share his view that many of these critics don't even like literature, seeing it instead as a means to further their left wing, 'post-whatever' agenda. It is a shame he is so old now. Who will succeed him? The university I went to was so dominated by trendy, left-wing multiculturalists that I was afraid to open my mouth. My tutor was an aggressive, touchy young black woman who specialized in writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. She seemed to know little about (and care even less) the canon, which no doubt she privately dismissed as a conspiracy to keep ethnic minorities in their place. Bloom is right to be pessimistic.
    Like, Pierre, you take a very broad, unfounded swipe at many schools of criticism. So, I'll repeat my questions I made to Pierre to you, Wickes:

    1. There are many talented Marxist Scholars, Gender scholars, and Post-Colonial scholars who have done excellent work in literary criticism; identity politics is not an area of study. Some of these scholars include Frederic Jameson, Terry Eagleton, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall, Edward Said, Iban Hassan, Homhi Babha, Elaine Scarry, Toril Moi, Margaret Ferguson, Stephen Greenblatt, Houston Baker, and Henry Louis Gates. Which of these critics have you found to be "insular and self-serving" and why?

    2. what exactly are your problems with these following schools of criticism and why--Marxist criticism, Psychoanalytic Criticism (which Bloom practiced), Feminist criticism, and Post-Colonial criticism/Race-oriented criticism. What are your specific problems with these schools of criticism practiced by thousands of scholars throughout the world?

    If you truly have a problem with these schools of criticism, you should be able to answer these question. I'm sure you--as an adult--are aware that the teachers in one university and/or one errant tutor does not negate the legitimacy of entire schools of thought. So, I look forward to your answers.

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