As regular readers of this blog know, over the past year or so I’ve been reading a lot of Harold Bloom. I’ve blogged my favorite quotes from his books as I’ve come across them, read several books on the strength of his recommendation (Bleak House, Kafka’s Blue Octavo Notebooks, Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad). But I don’t think I’ve said much about his body of work as a body of work, or articulated what it is about him that compels my sustained interest. And I’m still not going to do that–at least not today; first, because I’m not yet prepared to articulate that thought or those thoughts (blogs happen basically in real time, and my own work here is a present-tense record of my own ongoing education and expanding horizons, rather than any kind of attempted statement of intractable positions or beliefs); and second, even if I was prepared to attempt such an undertaking, I’ve got other things to do this afternoon. But, since the Viceland interview I linked to the other day seems to have been received well, I thought I would share another bit of Webvailable Bloomiana: this New York Times Review of Bloom’s Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?. The review is from October 2004, and is written by the great Melville scholar Andrew Delbanco. It offers a concise and articulate an introduction to Bloom’s virtues and talents–as well as a clear-eyed but vitriol-free acknowledgment of his limitations. I don’t know–or care, quite frankly–whether it will sell you on Bloom, but I think it will help make clear why I have become such a regular customer.
I do not count my borrowings, I weigh them. And if I had wanted to have them valued by their number, I should have loaded myself with twice as many.
– Montaigne, “Of Books”
quoted in Where Shall Wisdom be Found? by Harold Bloom
Wonder and delight!!!! (Also: Terror and violence!!!!)
Recently The Onion chose Blood Meridian for their Wrapped Up in Books feature, and then they decided to kick things to the next level by calling up Harold Bloom to talk about it with them in an Onion A/V Club interview not to be missed. And what are the first words out of Professor Bloom’s mouth? “I read it on the recommendation of a friend, Gordon Lish, a New York book editor and a specialist in fiction”
It’s Monday morning and I love life, not just because of the above, but the above sure as damn doesn’t hurt. One more money quote (they’re all money quotes) then you need to go click through and read the whole thing.
The first time I read Blood Meridian, I was so appalled that while I was held, I gave up after about 60 pages. I don’t think I was feeling very well then anyway; my health was going through a bad time, and it was more than I could take. But it intrigued me, because there was no question about the quality of the writing, which is stunning. So I went back a second time, and I got, I don’t remember… 140, 150 pages, and then, I think it was the Judge who got me. He was beginning to give me nightmares just as he gives the kid nightmares. And then the third time, it went off like a shot. I went straight through it and was exhilarated.
Something Baffling, Something Bloom: In which I follow H.B.’s advice and start reading Kafka’s Blue Octavo Notebooks
February 19, 1917.
Today read Hermann und Dorothea, passages from Richter’s Memoirs, looked at pictures by him, and finally read a scene from Hauptmann’s Griselda. For the brief span of the next hour am a different person. True, all prospects as misty as ever, but pictures in the mist now different. The man in heavy boots I have put on today for the first time (they were originally intended for military service) is a different person.
–The First Notebook
May 14th, 2009 / 4:12 pm
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”
Yet who reads to bring about an end however desirable? Are there not some pursuits that we practice because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards–their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble–the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”
— Virginia Woolf, from The Second Common Reader (quoted by Bloom in The Western Canon)
Those first three sentences have been my credo ever since I read them in my childhood, and I urge them now upon myself, and all who still can rally to them. They do not preclude reading to obtain power, over oneself or over others, but only through a pleasure that is final, a difficult and authentic pleasure.
— Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, “Woolf’s Orlando: Feminism as The Love of Reading”