Power Quote: Harold Bloom Brings it All Back Home

Posted by @ 10:41 am on May 10th, 2009

The motives for reading, as for writing, are very diverse and frequently not clear even to the most self-conscious readers or writers. Perhaps the ultimate motive for metaphor, or the writing and reading of figurative language, is the desire to be different, to be elsewhere. In this assertion I follow Nietzsche, who wanred us that what we can find words for is already dead in our hearts, so that there is always a kind of contempt in the act of speaking. Hamlet agrees with Nietzsche, and both might have extended the contempt to the act of writing. But we do not read to unpack our hearts, and so there is no contempt in the act of reading. Traditions tell us that the free and solitary self writes in order to overcome mortality. I think that the self, in its quest to be free and solitary, ultimately reads with one aim only: to confront greatness. That confrontation scarcely masks the desire to join greatness, which is the basis of the aesthetic experience once called the Sublime: the quest for a transcendence of limits. Our common fate is age, sickness, death, oblivion. Our common hope, tenuous but persistent, is for some version of survival.

–Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, “Elegiac Conclusion”

Yes, friends, it’s true. I have finished The Western Canon. What next? A break from Bloom seems in order now, not so much because I’m burned out on him (indeed, his dedication to literature is nothing if not infectious) but because the Bleak House interlude was such a resounding success that I’d now like to check out some of his other recommendations. I always have a hard time with books in translation, especially those Classics which may exist in a dozen or more different hardly equal versions. Bloom does his readership the great service of naming specific translators, editions, etc. This is not to suggest that his opinion is unassailable, or his authority final (he’s always the first to admit that his taste is largely based on his own idiosyncrasies), but as a literary guide he has earned my absolute trust, and so his recommendations make as good a starting point as any, and probably a better one than most. So over the weekend I picked up The Blue Octavo Notebooks, a collection of Kafka’s aphorisms left out of the published version of his journals. It’s the edition published by Exact Change in 1991, which I believe is a reprint of the Schocken edition from the early 50s. I also got the Great Short Works of Tolstoy. I had been looking for a copy of Hadji Murad in the translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude–a supposed lesser work of Tolstoy’s to which Bloom devotes a lot of attention, and claims is his all-time favorite piece of narrative fiction. Happy day, this Harper Perennial Classis edition contains contains eight short novels, Hadji Murad among them, and, for good measure, the short story “Alyosha the Pot.” Stand by for report, I guess.

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