The oracular mode

Judith Shulevitz wrote of Harold Bloom’s new book Genius, in the New York Times Book Review:

“He repeats himself so often that his favorite words acquire the ring of revolutionary slogans (Originality! Vitality!) or ritual denunciations (Resenters! Historicizers!). He makes grandiose and indefensible claims without explaining or arguing for them. He cloaks himself Wizard-of-Oz-like in the polysyllabic hermeticism of cabala and Gnosticism, with little seeming regard for the violence his borrowings may do to those systems or to the comprehensibility of his prose.”

Just so. I had the same problem with The Western Canon; Shakespeare; How to Read and Why. Bloom used to be (and still is when he wants to, it’s just that he mostly seems not to want to any more) an excellent close reader–something of a genius at it in fact. But he’s given that up now for the oracular mode, and he does indeed endlessly repeat himself and make tiresomely magniloquent claims, without troubling to argue for them. I love his passion for literature, and his passionate resistance to what he calls (often, often) the school of resentment, but for that very reason (as well as others) I wish he would bother to make a case for them rather than simply announcing them. It can be contagious, that kind of thing, and at a time when there is so much bad thought being flung around, it is incumbent on everyone to think and argue as well and clearly as possible. Bloom certainly knows how, and it would be nice if he could get over his taste for the jeremiad.

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