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BIBLIOGRIND

Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Critic Harold Bloom’s Ways-of-Seeing Literature

I first came across Harold Bloom’s prose in the early 1980s, as an undergrad at Illinois State University. Back then, of course, there was no easily-found information source (let’s call it “The Web” and be happy for it). Nevertheless, we college students had card catalogs, big-ass-long book-stacks, and lots of magazines on display shelves. I found Bloom’s not-yet-so-fleshy mug on the cover of a literary magazine. The title read something like, “Against the Fashion” or some-such polemic. Bloom himself might have titled it “Against the Literary Fascists” because, even then, he was against The Establishment’s ever-and-more-quickly-changing fashions of literary criticism.

Jump ahead a decade. I read The Paris Review’s ART OF CRITICISM interview, featuring Harold Bloom, who had a lot to say about “deep reading” and a shorter invective against the increasingly changing normative, and university-based, critical investigation approach to literature. The latter he expanded upon in his widely read “The Weston Canon” in which he lambasted 25 years of university-based teacher-critics who had found numerous ways-of-seeing literature, among them Historicism, Feminism, Gay-studies, Deconstructionism, Marxism, Freudianism, and Multi-culturalism.

What Bloom objected to, and I agreed with him as a 19 year old and 25 year old — and still do at 51 — was the slicing and dicing of story, character, language, and the subjectivising of writerly intent to fit these newly minted categories of literary study. Bloom stated that all of these took away from the beauty of the English language, the beauty of the stories, the deep-seated psychology of the characters (not Freud’s psychology, but Shakespearean), and the nature of literature itself: to investigate the human condition.

He asked the obvious questions: Who cares when a story/poem was written (it’s beauty rings because of the times, not within those times)? What difference does the beauty, or beauty-of-the-grotesque, have to do with gender or a writer’s “gay-ness”? And, given that we humans always-always-always act on a psychological razor’s edge, what’s the point of looking into that (especially when Shakespeare not only outlined them for us but color co-ordinated the good & bad of it all)? Finally, does the fact that a person’s “color” should be in any way incumbent on its inclusion into one’s reading list? Bloom’s answers to these questions were definitive: truth, beauty, and quality made the difference, and nothing which falls below these standards should take up our valuable reading time.

Today, Historicism & Feminism & (subsequently) Gender Studies & Freudianism … and all the rest … have fallen away. What remains, and is again hailed as the single best mode to read any book or story, is DEEP READING; that which compels you into the story, along through the characters’ plight, effort, and resolution, and what the sum total you are left with at the conclusion. And, I might ask, Isn’t this what book clubs have been doing for the better part of a century?

I think that what makes Bloom’s classic ideas of literary study worthy of all our attention, is that he approaches “story” with an idiosyncratic attention to what he reads off the page. To wit: what we bring to the page determines what we understand of the characters. What we “miss” in our over- or under-attention to characters and language makes such understanding all the more poignant, particularly on the second and third readings of these stories/novels/poems.

Now Bloom has come out with a new book, THE DEAEMON KNOWS, wherein he revisits the Romantic poets whom he had fallen for as a youth and young scholar, but who had almost disappeared under the attack of that “deamon-minded” T.S. Eliot, the conservative and anti-Semitic scourge of American & British letters through the first half of the 20th Century. But Bloom was unperturbed by Eliot, and his early years at Yale brought him all the battle that he might have been asking for.

Today those Romantics — Blake, Shelley, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop — are widely read in and out of the university classroom. So to are Whitman, Emerson, Hart Crane, Melville, and others. Bloom wrote about these, and many other, American and British authors who had made such an impression on him. “Bloom is a personal and passionate reader who prizes the face-to-face. For him reading resembles falling in love: The author who chooses you turns you inside out, making the world look utterly new and strange.” (from “The Deamon in Mr Bloom” at Tablet).

Such language must come from a romantic. Harold Bloom was and, at 84, still is a ROMANTIC. This is as much as can be asked of someone who has a love for words, and love of literature, that great artistic essay that unveils the human spirit through every age and decade wherein it can be found.

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My newest novel is “Max, the blind guy” — the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This new novel will be published on June 5, 2015 from Siren & Muse Publishing. Read an excerpt here that you won’t find at on-line bookshops.

What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

One Problem w/Art Interpretation Is…

In the 10 Oct 2013 issue of the London Review of Books, Hal Foster (Princeton Art Dept chair) has reviewed Jacques Ranciere’s latest critique of society’s aesthetic nature, “Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art” with many quotes, and lots of great things to say about Ranciere’s approach to criticism. Foster uses eloquent language to evoke the pathos of Ranciere’s not so eloquent language (certainly eloquent if you enjoy reading philosophy tracts; not so for the reader who wants clear, effective prose).

The problem I have with Ranciere is not his ideas, but the method in which his prose expostulates the ideas. Many examples are cited by Foster, but the one that sticks out for me comes during a discussion of Chaplin, Vertov, and the photography of “the Stieglitz circle”:

In each instance Ranciere finds the imperatives of the aesthetic and the mundane at work together: … and with Stieglitz “the objectivity of photography … makes the love of pure forms coincide with the apprehension of the inexhaustible historicity found at every street corner, in every skin fold, and at every moment of time.”

My beef is with the language, which takes a lot of heavy words to express a simple idea; an idea whose strength has been known for millennia: we like and appreciate art because it represents our lives, what we do, how we think and act and express our emotions, triumphs, sorrows, and failures.

Art exists because we exist.

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

“Basic Bech” by John Updike

Updike is a such a fine writer that reading this for the love of language and metaphor and the one-two-punch comic sentences is worth buying this book. Henry Bech is a particular type of 60s & 70s character who doesn’t specifically translate into the 21st century, but he’s the kind of fuck-up that every family has (even the successful fuck-up of the family) and so he’s good to know, fun to be around, and can help you out if you need it. Some of these collected stories are wonderful satires on travel, the literary scene, writing fiction, and being Jewish in America, but some are a bit thin, and by that they are send-ups in a world of send-up publication. Updike seemed to rattle several of these off, and, if not for his honed comic touch and fine view of American society, these several might fail. Overall, though, I enjoyed this pastiche of throwback Americana.

september 2, 2012

“Languid and clever, these young people had lacked not only patriotism and faith but even the course morality even competitiveness imposes.”

“He thought intelligence a function of the individual and that groups of persons were intelligent in inverse proportion to their size. Nations had the brains of an amoeba whereas a committee approached the condition of a trainable moron.”

“Norma had, he remembered, a fondness for vodka stingers, for Black Russians, for anything whose ingredients one was likely not to have.”

– John Updike, “Basic Bech”

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.