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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/18/15

Harold Bloom's Thought-Provoking New Book (REVIEW ESSAY)

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So in a sense, his wide-ranging discussion offers us a portrait of our American and Western cultural conditioning and invites us to reflect on our cultural conditioning and analyze it.

Now, I imagine that each human person has a daemon -- that is, a driving psychological constellation in his or her psyche that influences his or her destiny -- or perhaps more than one daemon. Whether the daemon constellation begins to form when the person is in his or her mother's womb, or only after birth, I am not certain.

In any event, Bloom's daemon has influenced his destiny so that he has read widely in imaginative literature and written voluminously about imaginative literature. As a result, we Americans should consider him a national treasure. But he has certain identifiable quirks. For this reason, nobody should uncritically swallow what he says. But what he says deserves to be considered and examined carefully.

Bloom claims that he has been "a Longinian critic since early youth" (page 30). Bloom says that Herman Melville's novel MOBY-DICK and Walt Whitman's SONG OF MYSELF together represent "the sublime of American imaginative literature" (page 31).

Bloom invokes Percy Bysshe Shelley's observation that "[t]he function of the sublime is to persuade us to end the slavery of pleasure" (page 30).

Subsequently, Bloom says that suffering is a hard doctrine that is "akin to Shelley's notion that the sublime persuades us to abandon easier pleasures for more difficult engagements. In this severe vision, the slavery of pleasure yields to what lies beyond the pleasure principle" (pages 47-48).

Finally, Bloom says, "Shelley remarked that the function of the sublime was to persuade us to abandon easier for more difficult pleasures" (page 496).

But so what?

Bloom says, "I think of Whitman and Melville, in the relation to the contemporary United States, as our resources akin to Isaiah's prophecy:

"'And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest;

"'as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land' (Isaiah 32:2).

"We have a need to heal violence, whether from without or from within. Our strongest writers . . . can meet that imaginative poverty and help protect the individual mind and society from themselves. I now have come to see that as the highest use of literature for our way of life" (page 31).


Stop the presses!

Tell the world that Bloom has figured out something really important for Americans to know -- the highest use of imaginative literature for our American way of life.

To be sure, Bloom is a modern-day idolater who claims that Shakespeare is God (page 32: "there is no God but God, and his name is William Shakespeare"). Bloom is also an anti-religion modern-day Gnostic. He explicitly singles out the "bad guys" in American culture today as "theocrats, plutocrats, and aging moralists" (page 135). I'm not sure why he specifies only "aging moralists" rather than saying "conservative moralists," which would include such conservatives as the New York Times' conservative columnists David Brooks and Ross Douthat.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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