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Harold Bloom

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I would have written this earlier had I time (don't really have time to write this now but will anyway). Harold Bloom, arguably the most well-known literary critic, died about a week ago at 89. I met him once (c. 2010) in NYC. He was rather amazing. His mind remembered everything. I was standing next to Bloom when a man introduced himself, but Bloom cut him off and said, "Ah, yeah. You are ____ (I forget his name). We last saw each other in 1978 at _____ party. Your wife's name was. How is she doing?" Those who knew Bloom knew of his memory, so the shock wasn't there, but it was fascinating to see it at work. He could also read anywhere from 400 to 1,000 pages per hour with almost total information retention. However, I also remember him saying that he only retained the information if he was interested in it. One could read any line from Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, etc., and he'd finish the entire rest of the text from memory. 

He first came to prominence in 1973 for Anxiety of Influence, his theory that great writers become great because they are agonizing over the influence of their great precursors and hope to find a space for themselves in the list of great writers. He also believed that Shakespeare is the only writer to ever have "totally absorbed" his precursors in such a way that he almost seems like he was predated them and influenced them. He was also a defender of the "Western Canon," the idea that there are 10,000 or so great works that should be aimed to be read in one's lifetime. These are works that are artistic masterpieces and universal (transcend the period they are written and matter in the 21st century and will matter beyond our century). 

In addition to literature, he also wrote on religion and commented on politics. His theory of Jesus, Jesus's brother James, and St. Paul was mostly identical to Robert Eisenman's theory (author of James, the Brother of Jesus). I had dinner with Eisenman a few weeks before I met Bloom, strangely enough. Jesus is a historical figure to these two men, but he wasn't trying to build a new religion. He was also opposed to Roman rule. James took over after Jesus's death. Paul, an ambitious man, sort of hijacked the idea of Jesus to build a new religion that would be palatable to Romans or at least tolerated by them. They both thought Paul had some sort of connection to King Herod. Paul comes off as a sort of Alexander Hamilton or Napoleon like Machiavellian figure. Bloom also believed that there were at least 7 different Jesus's in the New Testament, and that to conceive the idea that God of the old testament, and the various Jesus's are the same is "a recipe for psychic violence."

Bloom was also interested in Gnostic Judaism, even though he wasn't religious (Despite being non-religious, he said there was no fun in being an atheist). He used Gnostic Judaism as a way to explain his theory of literary influence. Bloom sort of became the Rabbi of a religion unto himself, but the scripture was Shakespeare, who was the human God who died but is permanently resurrected in the lives of the characters in his text. The other writers of the English language would probably play the part of Saints. 

Politically, he was kind of odd. He did not like identity politics. He believed that Republicans (and the Boston Red Sox) were fascists. He had supported Socialists, but he consistently supported Democratic candidates in presidential election, donating money to them. I remember him saying that he would "hold his nose" to vote for Obama as he was more likely to support someone like Kucinich.

Despite his great mental strengths, he had some glaring weaknesses. He did not like to be contradicted, and he was quick to shut authors and literature out if either contradicted his beliefs in literature. If an author was identified with identity politics in his or her writing, he would immediately write off that author and that author's work as not worthy of being "canonized." As someone who worked with fiction, poetry, plays, etc., he seemed to painstakingly script his own life as a sort of work of fiction. The quote that he thought there was no fun in being an atheist sums it up. He had to create his own image of what he was in a world that he partially created for himself. That said, I think a lot of what his readers and listeners saw may have been contrived theatrics to live up to this image, but he may have been happily deluded (I use deluded in a neutral sense). 

Anyway, I'll miss reading and listening to him. I only saw him once and email him a few times, but I feel like I knew him, mostly through his books and interviews. I recommend the following books, which are more general than his theory books:

  • The Western Canon
  • Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human
  • Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine
  • Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?
  • How to Read and Why
  • The Art of Reading Poetry

He wrote about 40 books or more. I've read 15 in their entirety and parts of 10 others. I highly recommend him. 

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I forgot to mention that another thing that proves he wasn't an "atheist" even though he claimed he wasn't religious, is that he believed "Yahweh" existed, but that he wanted him to just go away. That he wasn't meant to be trusted. I remember he blamed Him for allowing Nazi death camps and schizophrenia. He also took the original Hebrew for "I am what I am" (a pun on Yahweh's own name) to mean, "I will be what I will be," which also means "I will be present whenever I wish to be present." Bloom thought this also means, "I will be absent whenever I shall wish to be absent." He thought that God has been absent for most of Human history. 

Anyway, I think @Conservative Elector 2 @Patine @Reagan04 might be the most interested in the original post, CE2 for the literature, Patine for the modes of thought, and Reagan for the religious theories. 

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Didnt hear about his passing.First heard of him through PI 2020 scenario that has him as endorser.Did my research and i respected him a lot.RIP 

Edited by Rodja

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1 hour ago, vcczar said:

I forgot to mention that another thing that proves he wasn't an "atheist" even though he claimed he wasn't religious, is that he believed "Yahweh" existed, but that he wanted him to just go away. That he wasn't meant to be trusted. I remember he blamed Him for allowing Nazi death camps and schizophrenia. He also took the original Hebrew for "I am what I am" (a pun on Yahweh's own name) to mean, "I will be what I will be," which also means "I will be present whenever I wish to be present." Bloom thought this also means, "I will be absent whenever I shall wish to be absent." He thought that God has been absent for most of Human history. 

Anyway, I think @Conservative Elector 2 @Patine @Reagan04 might be the most interested in the original post, CE2 for the literature, Patine for the modes of thought, and Reagan for the religious theories. 

The inability of many members of all three main Abrahamic Monotheist faiths between the 3rd and 8th Centuries to reconcile the idea of a good, just, and benevolent, but all-powerful God allowing evil in the world was apparently a major reason for a notably high number of conversions to Manichaeanism at that particular time in history.

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48 minutes ago, Rodja said:

Didnt hear about his passing.First heard of him through PI 2020 scenario that has him as endorser.Did my research and i respected him a lot.RIP 

Yeah, he was a public intellectual that would make an effort to mention on NPR and such who he was voting for and such. Obviously, he'll have to be removed as an endorser. 

1 minute ago, Patine said:

The inability of many members of Abrahamic Monotheist faiths between the 3rd and 8th Centuries to reconcile the idea of a good, just, and benevolent, but all-powerful God allowing evil in the world was apparently a major reason for a notably high number of conversions to Manichaeanism at that particular time in history.

Yeah, that's an issue I have. If God is "good" (at least in the human definition of the word) and is also all powerful, then he could have prevented every atrocity. Some like to blame Satan, but that would mean God has some blind spot or weakness, in which case God is not all powerful. I think the fact that I can picture many people that I know as potentially making for a more benevolent God than God, if they were granted total power, is a major argument against the concept of God being wholly good. The only argument for God being good is if you argue that God defines good, which means we'd have to adjust our definitions of Good and Evil to account for that. I think the Bible and history shows a certain powerlessness of God, and as Bloom suggests, a potential absence. The God in Genesis and Exodus is almost too human--containing human failings like jealousy and rage. The Bible was clearly written by humans, and like most humans and like most things created by humans, has imperfections. 

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2 minutes ago, ThePotatoWalrus said:

who

You don’t read literature, I don’t think, so you probably don’t know who he is. He’s mainly on high-brow tv and radio shows, even though he’s routinely a N.Y. Times bestseller. 

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33 minutes ago, ThePotatoWalrus said:

who

 

30 minutes ago, vcczar said:

You don’t read literature, I don’t think, so you probably don’t know who he is. He’s mainly on high-brow tv and radio shows, even though he’s routinely a N.Y. Times bestseller. 

Let me also add that there's probably been at least 50 articles about him since he died. Several in the NY Times, Atlantic, New Yorker, Times of Israel, Slate, Guardian, Washington Post, Paris Review, NY Review of Books, Forbes, USAToday, Business Insider, and others. If you include foreign newspapers and local newspapers in the US, then it's probably hundreds of articles. I bet the Economist will have something on him soon. Most of these are on his impact on literature, reading, and American intellectual culture. I'm trying to think of a parallel for non-readers. Maybe if EA Sports or Rockstar games suddenly closed permanently? Or for football, if the owner of the Patriots died. Or in politics, the death of Ted Kennedy or John McCain. 

Harold Bloom, as far as I know, was the only literary figure that wrote above a pedestrian level that would get $3 million dollar advances for his book projects. 

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2 hours ago, vcczar said:

 

Let me also add that there's probably been at least 50 articles about him since he died. Several in the NY Times, Atlantic, New Yorker, Times of Israel, Slate, Guardian, Washington Post, Paris Review, NY Review of Books, Forbes, USAToday, Business Insider, and others. If you include foreign newspapers and local newspapers in the US, then it's probably hundreds of articles. I bet the Economist will have something on him soon. Most of these are on his impact on literature, reading, and American intellectual culture. I'm trying to think of a parallel for non-readers. Maybe if EA Sports or Rockstar games suddenly closed permanently? Or for football, if the owner of the Patriots died. Or in politics, the death of Ted Kennedy or John McCain. 

Harold Bloom, as far as I know, was the only literary figure that wrote above a pedestrian level that would get $3 million dollar advances for his book projects. 

Those are good comparisons. Meant no disrespect, I genuinely had no idea who the fella was

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22 hours ago, vcczar said:

a potential absence

Isn't this the whole point of Christianity? It's an answer to the absence of God. But the framing is a bit different. The problem is set up in Genesis by the separation of man from God ('the fall'). It is then solved by the union of man and God (the incarnation), which offers a (narrow) way for humans back to God through following the teachings and actions of the Christ.

"to conceive the idea that God of the old testament, and the various Jesus's are the same is "a recipe for psychic violence.""

Ya, it requires some significant explanation, as probably any 7 year old can point out. God just slaughtered a bunch of Egyptians? God just ordered genocide on the Canaanites?

One simple response is that God is most clearly seen in the words and actions of Jesus, and so any theories about the nature of God based on the Old Testament must be seen in that light.

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2 minutes ago, admin_270 said:

One simple response is that God is most clearly seen in the words and actions of Jesus, and so any theories about the nature of God based on the Old Testament must be seen in that light.

This is what Bloom would call a “recipe for psychic violence.”  That is, the attempt to mentally construe the God of the OT and the Jesus (or Jesuses as he’d say) into somehow being the same mind/God/entity. 

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Just now, vcczar said:

the attempt to mentally construe the God of the OT and the Jesus (or Jesuses as he’d say) into somehow being the same mind/God/entity

Ya, but there's a pretty straightforward way to combine them. The God of the OT was not understood well by the writers, so they mis-attributed various things to Him. But ya, many Christians tie themselves in knots trying to explain away certain parts of the OT, because they are committed to maintaining the veracity of all of the OT. Similar to problems Biblical literalists have when faced with what we seem to know about hydrology, geology, cosmology, and so on.

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4 minutes ago, admin_270 said:

Isn't this the whole point of Christianity? It's an answer to the absence of God. But the framing is a bit different. The problem is set up in Genesis by the separation of man from God ('the fall'). It is then solved by the union of man and God (the incarnation), which offers a (narrow) way for humans back to God through following the teachings and actions of the Christ.

"to conceive the idea that God of the old testament, and the various Jesus's are the same is "a recipe for psychic violence.""

Ya, it requires some significant explanation, as probably any 7 year old can point out. God just slaughtered a bunch of Egyptians? God just ordered genocide on the Canaanites?

One simple response is that God is most clearly seen in the words and actions of Jesus, and so any theories about the nature of God based on the Old Testament must be seen in that light.

Actually, you neglected to mention Free Will, which is actually the cause of most of this evil. God gave and respected Free Will of mortals, even to turn away completely from God, to make Salvation and Judgement Day fully vilified, and not just by His fiat (like a movie director, scripting everything, for instance). In fact, as I once told @Reagan04, despite the firm belief of a notable number of Americans that rights in the American Bill of Rights are NOT Divinely by Providence or supported by Scriptural law or empowerment, but are in fact the result of late-17th Century, 18th Century, and early 19th Century Enlightenment thinking, and are indeed the craft of ideologues, social philosophers, and government, Free Will and the Promise of a Path to Salvation are the only two true "inalienable rights" granted by the Christian God. This is also why John Calvin is one of the greatest stains, blights, and corruptions upon the face of Christiandom - "better to have never been born at all than to lead little ones astray," as a quote by Christ may apply to his misguided theology.

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