November 17, 2011 | 9:57 am
Posted by Jonathan Kirsch
Harold Bloom’s recent musings on Mormonism in the New York Times caught the attention of my colleague, Mark Paredes, who blogged about Bloom in The Jewish Journal.
I’ve been reading Harold Bloom with interest and admiration, and quoting him often in my own work, ever since I picked up “The Book of J” many years ago. I have often found him to be impenetrable and sometimes wrongheaded, however, as when he credits Shakespeare rather than the author of the Book of Samuel for “the invention of the human.” But Bloom’s ability to rub people the wrong way was brought home to me when a distinguished Bible scholar complained to me that Bloom had extracted an idea about biblical authorship from the scholar’s writings without acknowledging the source.
“I think he’s a big fat idiot,” the scholar told me, thus destroying one of my illusions about the elevated nature of academic discourse.
Another recent example of Bloom-bashing can be found in The New Republic, where William Deresiewicz reviews Bloom’s latest book, “The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life” (Yale University Press: 357). “With ‘The Anatomy of Influence,’ Harold Bloom has promised us his ‘swan song’ as a critic,” writes Deresiewicz. “Fat chance.”
“[A]fter some thirty original books and hundreds of edited volumes,” he goes on, “after evidence of a logorrhea so Niagaran even death will be hard-put to shut it off, there is little possibility that Bloom has given us his ‘final reflection upon the influence process.’ … ‘The Anatomy of Influence’ is not only not his last book, it’s not even his last one this year. Already in September came an appreciation of the King James Bible, billed, inevitably, as the book that Bloom had been writing ‘all my long life’… ‘The culmination of a life’s work’: is that the last one or the latest one? Neither: it’s the one he published thirteen years ago. The Harold Bloom Show, we can rest assured, is good many seasons yet.”
The Harold Bloom Show is still a ratings winner in American letters, of course, but there are plenty of naysayers. Deresiewicz is one of them.
“Bloom must surely be the most solipsistic critic on record. Harold is, indeed, a world unto himself,” he writes. “Reading him reminds me of the scene in Being John Malkovich where the title character enters the portal that leads to his own brain to find himself in a world where everybody looks like him, and all they can say is “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.” In the world of Bloom, every author looks like Bloom, and all they can say is “Bloom, Bloom, Bloom.”
His remarks reminded me of one of my favorite passages from the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer, where Singer likens the world to a novel whose author is God. Bloom expressed a similar idea in “The Book of J.” (“I myself do not believe that the Torah is any more or less the revealed Word of God,” writes Bloom, “than are Dante’s ‘Commedia,’ Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear,’ or Tolstoy’s novels, al works of comparable literary sublimity.”) But Singer acknowledges that even the Divine Author has his critics.
“We know that the angels have nothing but praise,” writes Singer. “Three times a day they sing: Sublime! Perfect! Great! Excellent! But there must be some angry critics, too. They complain: Your novel, God, is too long, too cruel: Too little love. Too much sex. They advise cutting.”
If God has his angry critics, I suppose, then Harold Bloom, the critic par excellence, cannot be surprised to find that he has a few of them, too.
Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of The Jewish Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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