In Full Bloom

This review of Harold Bloom’s latest bit of vatic wisdom is good fun. I like and value Bloom’s efforts to preverve and convey enthusiasm for literature, but I find the actual books in which he does so unendurably irritating. He’s irritating in the same kind of way Paglia is; I wonder if he taught her to be irritating in that way, or if she taught him, or if they taught each other, or if they’re both that way by nature. They both make flat unargued unsupported assertions when they ought to be arguing. Take it or leave it. Yeah, I’ll leave it, thanks.

In spite of his popularity and productivity, however, Mr. Bloom remains an odd candidate for the mantle of Mortimer Adler, Daniel Boorstin, and Jacques Barzun. He completely lacks the good teacher’s humility before his subject and the good popularizer’s ability to make a complex subject clear. Mr. Bloom is an impatient and mannered writer, unwilling or unable to take trouble over his prose or to follow an argument from premise to conclusion. Like a lazy gardener, he lets the seeds of his insights fall where they may, never lingering to make sure they have sprouted into an actual thought.

And they haven’t. The thing about Shakespeare’s characters changing their minds right before our eyes, which he thinks is such a staggering insight – I don’t buy it. I don’t believe Shakespeare invented the idea, which is part of Bloom’s claim, and I don’t believe all the other eye-goggling stuff Bloom says about it either. He doesn’t say a thing to make it convincing – he just keeps repeating it. Repetition doesn’t do it.

In “Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human” (1998), he wrote about the playwright in terms befitting a god, considering him the creator of the modern human mind, as God was the creator of the original human species. This is a metaphor, of course, and a Wildean paradox, reminiscent of the aesthete’s observation that the fogs in London were beginning to imitate Impressionist paintings. But Mr. Bloom did not treat it as a metaphor; he wrote as though, through some means he did not even attempt to explain, our consciousness was actually created by Shakespeare’s representations of consciousness.

Just so – ‘through some means he did not even attempt to explain.’ Well, an idea that sweeping needs some explanation, doesn’t it.

It is a shame that…the reader must wade through so much of the usual Bloomian detritus – irrelevancies, digressions, careless repetitions, grand pronouncements. Is it vain to hope that, in his next book, Mr. Bloom will stop hiding his intellectual light under a bushel of mannerisms?

Probably. Bloom seems to be well entrenched in his mannerisms. Pity.

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