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Life Arts    H4'ed 5/18/15

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

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Disclosure: My daemon compels me to write and publish op-ed commentaries against certain American theocrats of various stripes, libertarian plutocrats such as the Koch brothers, and conservative moralists such as Brooks and Douthat. I come from a Roman Catholic background, but for years now I have not been a practicing Catholic. Today I would describe myself as a theistic humanist (Bloom is an atheistic humanist). Another example of a theistic humanist is Eric Voegelin, who also used the term daemon that Bloom uses.

Let me be clear here about my position regarding possible personal psycho-spiritual development: Christians and Jews and Muslims and other theists as well as all varieties of atheists and agnostics may take the log from their eye, figuratively speaking (Mt. 7:3; Lk. 6:42), so that the spirit of truth may set them free (Jn. 16:13).

My claim is that the psychodynamism of the spirit of truth setting one free involves the deep feminine dimension of the human psyche that Bruteau calls attention to.

Concerning certain American Catholic theocrats, see Damon Linker's book THE THEOCONS: SECULAR AMERICA UNDER SIEGE (2006).

In his new book Bloom centers his attention on major American literary figures in the 19th century and later.

In her book THE FEMINIZATION OF AMERICAN CULTURE (1977), Ann Douglas discusses the feminization of American culture in the 19th century.

So I am inclined to say that what Bruteau refers to as the new feminine era in the psyche in American culture began to emerge in 19th-century American culture.

Now, for the purposes of analyzing our American and Western cultural conditioning, I want to single out the set of four themes that Bloom mentions like a leitmotif running through his book: (1) night, (2) death, (3) the mother, and (4) the sea (pages 4, 48, 121, 125, 455). Bloom also says that this set of four themes express "'an image of longing,'" a characterization he acknowledges borrowing from A. R. Ammons (page 455).

In a flourish about those four themes, Blooms says that Herman Melville's novel MOBY-DICK "is Ishmael's book of the night; Queequeg's deathly coffin, which saves Ishmael from the vortex; Moby Dick, who, for all his phallic menace, constitutes the epic's only maternal presence; and Ahab's imperial (and imperious) sea" (page 121).

As you can see, in the hands of a smooth operator like Bloom, symbolic representations of those four themes can be found even in a novel where mother imagery is in short supply.

Now, as Bloom's flourish about Melville's MOBY-DICK suggests, the imagery involved in those four themes are inter-connected, which presumably is why they can be characterized as expressing together an image of longing. For example, womb and tomb imagery can be inter-connected not only with one another but also with the mother and with death and with night. In addition, I think that the theme of death can refer to each person's final loss of life -- and to symbolic psychological death.

Concerning death as the final loss of life, see the new book THE WORM AT THE CORE: ON THE ROLE OF DEATH IN LIFE by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski (2015).

Now, once we allow that metaphors of death may refer not only to one's final loss of life, but also to one symbolic dying to one's old life, then we are in a position to interpret night, the mother, and the sea symbolically as possible psychological experiences involving the deep feminine dimension of the human psyche -- the very dimension of the human psyche that Bruteau says is resurfacing in our contemporary experience of the new feminine era in the psyche in our contemporary American and Western culture today.

In the deeply informed book THE RESTORED NEW TESTAMENT (2009), Willis Barnstone notes that in ancient Gnosticism, Eve in the story in Genesis was seen as the Prometheus-like hero in the story.

So once we allow that the character Eve in the story in Genesis symbolically represents a certain aspect of the feminine dimension of the human psyche, then we are in a position to see her as the Prometheus-like hero of the story in Genesis and the deep model in the American and Western psyche for Promethean heroes such as the Promethean heroes that Bloom discusses throughout his new book.

Years ago, Bloom famously, or infamously depending on your point of view, claimed that the author of J, the Yahwist source, was a woman. The story of Adam and Eve in Genesis is part of the source known as J. So if Bloom is right about the author of J being a woman, we have in the story of Adam and Eve, a woman portrayed as the Prometheus-like hero of the story written by a woman.

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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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