Tag Archives: harold bloom

The IslamoFascistChristianFeminist, etc, etc, Plot Against Literature

I’ve been steadily working my way through Harold Bloom’s The Western Canon, and there is a lot that’s quite brilliant in here. It seems that almost every page has some insightful observation or quotable remark that I’ll try to remember for later.

Which is nice, since there’s also quite a lot of this:

It may be that the new Theocratic Age of the twenty-first century, whether Christian or Muslim or both or neither, will amalgamate with the Computer Era, already upon us in early version of “virtual reality” and “the hypertext.” Combined with universal television and the University of Resentment (already well along in consolidation) into one rough beast, this future would cancel the literary canon once and for all.

If anyone knows what the hell this means, I’d be interested to hear your theory.

Let me try to explain as best I can. As you read through The Western Canon, you begin to develop a working dictionary of Harold Bloom-ese. “Theorcratic Age” more or less makes sense–an age of renewed religious fervor that may very well follow up our current age of chaos (as Bloom puts it) that came with the dissolution of God and secular moral authority. “Computer Era” you are on your own for (this is the first instance). “Universal television” is already becoming less and less relevant with the rise of the Internet (plenty of people I know don’t even watch TV any more; I don’t). And “University of Resentment,” roughly speaking, if Bloom’s caricature for any kind of cultural criticism that postdates Bloom’s own heyday, also known as “The Greatest Age of Criticism Ever, Really.” They are “resentful” mostly because they are feminists who are angry with Bloom for saying acerbic things to them.

Anyway, what gets me isn’t that none of the concepts the Bloom has applied here are valid (that’s debatable); what I simply can’t understand is how they combine into some apocalyptic end-times beast to “cancel the literary canon once and for all.” But, heck, if hatred of the literary canon could unite 99% of the world behind one simple agenda, it couldn’t be all that bad, could it . . . ?

But yes, my single best argument for reading The Western Canon is that despite strange little things like this it’s a very compelling piece of criticism. Or maybe these weird little outbursts are all to Bloom’s point. As he’s fond of saying again and again, strangeness is the single more important quality for canonization.

It’s As Personal As Poetry

Harold Bloom interviewed at the Boston Review nails what criticism should aspire to be:

B: Oh I can’t do anything that isn’t personal. That was true when I started publishing in 1957. I am nothing if not personal, that’s why a lot of people don’t like what I do. I don’t see any point to literary criticism or literary editing unless it’s as personal as poetry, or some varieties of the novel, the story or drama. Literary criticism is either part of literature or shouldn’t exist. I teach, think, read and write personally. What else could I be? What are we all here for? Objectivity is a farce. It’s a myth. It’s shallow. Deep subjectivity is not easy—it’s very difficult—it’s what you try to educate people into.

I certainly don’t agree with all that Bloom thinks about the canon and criticism, but this quote epitomizes the best of what he’s about. Probably no critic has had a greater influence on my own idea of literary criticism as a “creative” enterprise. This is partly an accident of where and when I read Bloom and partly because he said it first and best in The Anxiety of Influence and A Map of Misreading.

Bloom is very easy to caricature since he doesn’t mince words and has very strong views about political correctness–and I will say that he too often caricatures the views of his adversaries, to the detriment of his arguments–but you will not find a critic who takes literature as literature more seriously. If anything, he borders on being too willing to wallow in art’s uselessness, as least as the marketplace defines “useful.” That, in my opinion, is worth a lot.

Particularly in an era when the erstwhile advocates of the arts force tripe like this upon us:

“Art works” is a declaration that with two million full-time artists and 5.7 million arts-related jobs in this country, arts jobs are real jobs that are part of the real economy. Art workers pay taxes, and art contributes to economic growth, neighborhood revitalization, and the livability of American towns and cities.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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