Sunday, December 18, 2005

Harold Bloom, super-literate, vs. and George Bush, semi-literate

I once tried to read Harold Bloom's book The Western Canon, in which he recommends a list of books that a person should read if he/she wants to be truly literate and well-informed in the tradition of Western civilization.

Tried, and failed, even though I happen to be a fairly voracious reader. How Bloom managed to take a bunch of inherently fascinating books and make them seem dull is a mystery I haven't quite solved. But I seem to recall dense prose and a generous dose of condescension.

At any rate, Bloom is now venturing into political waters. In Saturday's Guardian, his commentary on--who else?--George Bush appeared. Here are a few excerpts to give you an idea of the flavor of its typical conspiracy theories on the dark motivations and machinations of Bush and the Republicans:

At the age of 75, I wonder if the Democratic party ever again will hold the presidency or control the Congress in my lifetime. I am not sanguine, because our rulers have demonstrated their prowess in Florida (twice) and in Ohio at shaping voting procedures, and they control the Supreme Court. The economist-journalist Paul Krugman recently observed that the Republicans dare not allow themselves to lose either Congress or the White House, because subsequent investigations could disclose dark matters indeed. Krugman did not specify, but among the profiteers of our Iraq crusade are big oil (House of Bush/House of Saud), Halliburton (the vice-president), Bechtel (a nest of mighty Republicans) and so forth.

Bloom doesn't think much of Americans, either:

All of this is extraordinarily blatant, yet the American people seem benumbed, unable to read, think, or remember, and thus fit subjects for a president who shares their limitations.

Bloom clearly seems to think that Americans deserve Bush--we are that stupid. But Bloom is clear that we don't deserve some of our greatest writers:

[D.H.] Lawrence, frequently furious at Whitman, as one might be with an overwhelming father, a King Lear of poetry, accurately insisted that the Americans were not worthy of their Whitman. More than ever, they are not, since the Jacksonian democracy that both Whitman and Melville celebrated is dying in our Evening Land.

One gets the notion that Bloom thinks that America is also unworthy of the Great Bloom, although he's far too modest to say it straight out. And it's odd to see the word "Jacksonian" in this context, because the political impulse that Bush is implementing (and part of what Bloom is so against) is sometimes referred to as "Jacksonian," in the sense advanced by Walter Russell Meade.

Bloom may or may not have read Meade, but he certainly reads a lot of books--and he is certain that Bush does not. In fact, Bloom writes:

Though he possesses a Yale BA and honorary doctorate, our president is semi-literate at best. He once boasted of never having read a book through, even at Yale.

I'll draw the veil of silence on the rest of Bloom's essay (if you're interested, you can always follow the link and read it for yourself), except to say that the summary version is, "Bush stinks, and American has lost its way due to the evangelicals."

I want for a moment, however, to talk about those two sentences of Bloom's about Bush and books. They piqued my curiosity: whatever could Bloom be referring to? Did Bush really boast of "never having read a book through, even at Yale?"

The closest I could come to the origin of the statement was a joke Bush made at a dinner. Bloom's remarks seem to have been based on the following self-deprecating quip Bush made at a black-tie event prior to the 2000 election:

William F Buckley wrote a book at Yale. I read one.

Well, if I didn't know better, I'd accuse Bloom of a lack of reading comprehension. Or perhaps it's a lack of listening comprehension. Or maybe he just doesn't get the difference between a joke and a serious declarative statement; certainly, his works don't show an especially well-developed sense of humor, as best I can recall.

And what of Bush's actual reading habits, not his Bloom-imagined ones? Well, he seems to like his books long:

Married to a former librarian, Bush likes short speeches and, judging from a recent reading list (Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, Joseph J. Ellis's His Excellency: George Washington), lengthy books. Early in its first term the Bush White House established an authors lecture series, which enabled the president to pick the brains of David McCullough, Edmund Morris, Martin Gilbert, Bernard Lewis, and Robert Kaplan, among others. Bush has publicly acknowledged his debt to Natan Sharansky's The Case for Democracy, which distinguishes between "free" and "fear" societies, and exalts Ronald Reagan's moral confrontation with Soviet tyranny. A recent New York Times story described his admiration for Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

I'm not sure how these works would sit with Bloom--but they certainly qualify as books. In addition Bush, according to the same article, reads the Bible or the works of Oswald Chambers (a Scottish-born chaplain) every morning. With Bloom's emphasis on how the religious right is responsible for so many ills in America, I would have guessed that he'd be none too pleased with that reading matter.

But it turns out I'd be wrong. Here's Bloom's Western Canon, his list of essential books for the educated, literate person. It turns out that the Bible, King James version, is one of the first on the list. De Tocqueville doesn't get mentioned, but surely Bush should get at least a tiny bit of credit from Bloom for his Bible study? Seems not.

I'm not really sure why people such as Bloom fascinate me so. I think it's the way their deep knowledge in a certain specialized area (in his case, literature) combines with a failure to research much outside the range of that knowledge, and the resultant arrogance and ignorance they display without their even realizing it. Because they are smart and highly erudite in one discipline, and are used to pontificating within that discipline (and receiving praise and respect when they do), people such as Bloom often appear to lack the intellectual curiosity--and humility--to wonder what it is they don't know about other things, and to try to learn.

Well, you certainly can't say the same for Bush. In fact, au contraire, according to this excerpt from a mostly-uncomplimentary book about Bush, written by Jacob Weisberg:

Richard Perle, foreign policy adviser [says]: "The first time I met Bush 43 … two things became clear. One, he didn't know very much. The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn't know very much."

Weisberg cited the Perle quote in a way that was meant to be a put-down of Bush. But some might consider it a recommendation. At any rate, it's a trait that Harold Bloom might do well to emulate now and then.

48 Comments:

At 11:04 AM, December 18, 2005, Blogger chuck said...

I'm not really sure why people such as Bloom fascinate me so.

Perhaps because they are so annoying? Works for me anyway. I find myself climbing the walls whenever I have to endure the pompous pronouncements of narrow and ignorant people who are sure of their overwhelming brilliance, especially when they are spouting facile nonsense like this.

 
At 11:22 AM, December 18, 2005, Blogger David said...

If Bloom has extra time on his hands, he should devote it to improving his writing skills, which IMNSHO are pretty mediocre.

 
At 11:45 AM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Sigmund, Carl and Alfred said...

Mr Bloom does indeed possess many talents. I have no quibble with those truths.

That said, his remarks on American politics are sorely lacking- and prove Mark Twain correct when he remarked something to the effect that, Americans will assume the word of a British idiot as credible, simple because of his of his accent.

 
At 12:09 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous colagirl said...

Harold Bloom is a self-satisfied jackass IMHO. (Some of his comments on Stephen King suggested to me that he's never read a King book in his life.) Unfortunately according to what I hear from my brother, who's a grad student in English, attitudes like his are all too common in the field, to the field's severe detriment.

 
At 12:14 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous erasmus said...

Sigmund et al
So how does that apply to Bloom, whose accent is closer to my Yiddish-spreaking grandmother (Bloom's first language, too) than any Oxbridge don?

 
At 12:15 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crichton coined the term 'thintelligence' for technician versions of the Bloom phenomenon.

A dear, former girlfriend (ca 40 years ago) is an historian of America in the 19th century, with concentration on the early feminists. I - and to do her justice, she herself when it was pointed out - find it curious that she cannot recognize in Bush the most revolutionary president since Jackson. (Once perceiving it, she doesn't like it and I do, but that issue is separate.) A shame that an intellect ostensibly trained to view the sweep of human history cannot sense any history afoot in her time.

 
At 12:40 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Epaminondas said...

What a maroon!

If Bloom is so concerned as to whether the dem party will regain 'power' in his lifetime, he should be asking whether they have another FDR or HST to represent the PEOPLE, and therefore garner their votes.

Oh wait, they have Joe Lieberman.
Oh wait, they excoriate him.

What can this possibly mean about the future of this party?

Can you spell "WHIG"?

DUH!

 
At 1:01 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous bob said...

Those silly little liberal eggheads. Just because you read a bunch of books don't make you smart.

 
At 1:03 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects." Will Rogers

 
At 1:07 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Right, Unknown.

The problem with such as Bloom is that when anybody wants to talk to him, it's about what he thinks and knows.

Thus, most of his conversations involve explicating his thoughts and laying out his knowledge.

After a couple of decades of that, one might get the impression that one knows all. Other fields of knowledge simply aren't part of the conversation. Why would Bloom write on something he doesn't know? Or be the importunate questioner in a conversation about somebody else's field of knowledge?

 
At 1:17 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Motor 1560 said...

As always, a thought provoking essay, Neo.

There seems to be an implicit assumption that if one reads this book list or that one from, for example, the Durant's, one will be wise. And if one is wise, one deserves to be listened to in the councils of the powerful. Bloom is a product of that sort of a system, dependent upon a particular educational process. It is a sort of shamanic view.

The fact that few of us have the time to read what resembles a serious birders life list seems to escape the academicians. It also seems to escape their notice that a "classical education" doesn't prepare a student to really do any thing in particular.

The Walter Russell Meade's come from a much more utilitarian tradition. Meade's work provides us with an analytical framework that illuminates a difficult subject, American foreign policy. It's actually useful. Which is probably why my copy of Special Providence has so many Post-It tags while I'd be had pressed to remember what happened to my copy of the Bhagavad-Gita; seems to have gone missing.

However, ignorance of the historical experience of the United States is still in fashion.
And, Bloom, the irrelevant old shaman, exemplifies this. It is also not limited to Brit's, since many of our own academics think that American studies is just above home economics when compared to the latest theories of de-construction or semiotics.

Whole academic industries have sprung up to write and discuss topics that, at their base, are as substantial as fluffy cotton candy. Their entire utility seems to be that they provide a refuge from the actual study of mathematics.

It is understandable that Bloom may not have the background to understand the self deprecatory traditional humor of the American West and to know that it is derived from a particular folkway that has been remarkably persistent since it came over from the English Border areas.

He might cure this deficiency of knowledge by reading Albion's Seed, by D.H. Fischer, a watershed work of interpretive history. But, the frozen in amber, Canon doesn't seem to have a way to add books.

Academcians of the Bloom school remind me of the the preservation of Jeremy Bentham's dessicated corpse.

 
At 1:49 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger David Thomson said...

“I think it's the way their deep knowledge in a certain specialized area (in his case, literature) combines with a failure to research much outside the range of that knowledge, and the resultant arrogance and ignorance they display without their even realizing it.”

Harold Bloom reminds me why I normally have such disrespect for the soft science Ph.D. Thank God, we Americans are somewhat “anti-intellectual” and take folks like Bloom with a huge grain of salt. Anyone possessing a liberal arts advance degree behind their name should be treated like an idiot until proven otherwise. It may be virtually impossible to acquire a liberal arts Ph.D. unless one is an intellectual slut. This is especially true for our so-called elite universities like Harvard.

 
At 1:51 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger ShrinkWrapped said...

Bloom is among that pantheon of narrow but brilliant people who do not know the difference between intellectual brilliance and wisdom. There is usually (though not always, as suggested by Bloom's remarks) an overlap, but they are entirely separate cognitive abilities.

 
At 2:02 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous YetAnotherRick said...

"Turning the phone off, I gloomily prophesied that these were three million Evangelicals, which indeed was the case."

It's sad to see him repeating one of the most popular myths, although it's usually described as "Rove's Four Million Evangelicals." The fact is the increase in Evangelical turnout was proportional to the overall increase.

 
At 2:03 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Since Bush couldn't find his propaganda with both hands and a radar, the people who insist that he masterminded the Florida "operations" are either deluding themselves or attempting to delude others.

Their eyes do not percieve reality, and one of the reasons is because they sorely lack an understanding of their own natures, their own very human and fallible natures.

There is no one that may be pragmatic without knowing himself and his enemies. ANd you cannot do that without understanding the nature of one's enemies and the nature of one's own soul.

As for what you need to read to understand Western Civilization and be literate, that is very simple. Get a Classical Education. No, I'm not kidding, and I mean a REAL classical education. Not the propaganda, brainwashing, crapola they use instructionists like Bloom to instruct in universities.

A proper classical education only really requires three things. Logic, history, and the art of war.

That is about it.

As you can see, the only classical education available per par is actually in the military (or military academies), notably the Marines and the combat branches of the Army for specifics. If you don't include people like Victor Davis Hanson.

Logic is simple, it teaches people how to think instead of WHAT to think. As that is, it allows people to read and integrate new information, and come to correct conclusions because their mind is not only open but extremely well filtered. As such, they can filter out the lies and propaganda, derive the truth, and then use it to derive other truths. Instead of being brainwashed like 33% of the American people have into believing whatever the rich ego-freaks that control the Democratic party want them to believe, people like George Soros.

History is also, simple. Study the Battle of Thermopylae. Steven Pressfield's the Hot Gates is a book I've mentioned, and quite popular to some of the Marines I know for a reason. The American Revolution, the American Civil War, WWI, WWII, The PUnic Wars, the Peloponessian War, etc.

But the Bible is... well, a fundamentally non-requirement for the study of history. One need not have to read the Bible to understand the political ramifications of the Christian conversion of the Byzantine Emperor, thereby converting the whole of the Empire of Rome to Christianity.

It is only a requirement for literature, and the crazy authors high on opiates that write using bible metaphors.

A de-coder ring.

Last, but not least, studying the Art of War requires both Logic and the historical background to go with it. A Military Science expertise is the formal application of a Classical Education.

Everyone knows that Athens fielded philosopher-warriors. Kings who fought as well as wrote treatises that have survived the test of ages. Hoplite warriors versed in poetry as well as military discipline.

There is a reason why the military of the United States is predominantly filled with people who value liberty. It is also why most military people are Republicans. Probably 99% in the Extreme Combat Branches. As I said, most of the classical education material can be found in combat branches of the military.

The reason why most people don't find a use for a "classical education" is also very simple. Because what is taught now with the appelation "classical education" is neither CLASSICAL nor an "education".

It is indoctrination, propaganda, brainwashing, and instillment of ideology.

All the things they accuse the military of doing... ha ha, well the jokes on them I guess. Well, it would be, if we killed them, but oh well.

 
At 2:32 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger David Thomson said...

Victor Davis Hanson does not teach at Harvard. The last time I noticed, this brilliant man is associated with California State University, Fresno. Thomas Sowell apparently received his doctorate at Harvard, but never taught there. However, such intellectual mediocrities as John Kenneth Galbraith, John Rawls, and Stephen Breyer “earned” tenure.

“Bloom is among that pantheon of narrow but brilliant people who do not know the difference between intellectual brilliance and wisdom.”

There is no doubt in my mind but that Howard Bloom possesses a high I.Q. Graduates of Harvard and the other “elite” schools are not mentally defective creatures. They have, though, often whored themselves so that could gain a far above income and prestige. One may be the most brilliant person in the world, but you have wasted your enormous talents once you wet your finger to see which way the wind blows.

 
At 4:22 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

One of the problems I notice with Bloom's list is that he purposefully excludes books that are relevant to understanding human nature as we see it today. A lot of the Aristotelian and Plato works could be used to aid in understanding human nature, but it seems to me that Bloom focuses primarily on things that relate to their own times and not the books that are universally relevant. He even said something to this effect that he excluded authors that were well known to get at the secretive less known authors.

Another thing I noticed is how he kept using the word "canonical".

What is he, a cardinal in a church? Is he deciding what needs to go on the ban list of things that can or cannot be read?

And thirdly, it is weird that he excluded John Milton's "On the Subjugation of Women" from Milton's list of books.

All the things that speak of liberty and freedom, in the historical sense, that one could apply to today's events... don't seem much in evidence.

For example. It does not have Plato's Critias or his Republic.

Someone trying to comment on politics and he doesn't recommend the reading of those books for an understanding of "Western Civilization"?

What kind of crack is this guy smoking, cause it sure ain't brilliance. I have to contend that in the end.

Or maybe he thinks Western canon just doesn't include liberty and political freedoms... eh?

Tried, and failed, even though I happen to be a fairly voracious reader. How Bloom managed to take a bunch of inherently fascinating books and make them seem dull is a mystery I haven't quite solved.

I see it as Bloom's approach. For Bloom, reading these books is not worthwhile because of what is in them, rather reading them is a requirement to be "canonically" sound so to speak. To be part of his cliche, to be elevated above those who have not read them. To attain a superiority of intellect and of quotes, to transcend the masses.

Thus to anyone that truly seeks knowledge and truth, the idea that one has to read a book not because of what is in it but because it is required, is truly aggrieving (I just looked up this word ex post facto, and it really did exist. Score one for good instincts).

 
At 5:17 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Intelligence in the service of contempt is still just contempt, and this kind of contempt is a defense against something more sinister. In other words, whatever else Bloom is talking about, he's really expressing the unconscious need to denigrate an object in order to spuriously triumph over it.

 
At 8:23 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger terrye said...

I read that Bush recently had the entire staff read McCulloughs's 1776.

I think Bloom is just another obnoxious old academic who has no idea how America works.

I really like the Halliburton thing. yes siree that is a sign of masterful intellect and insight.

If Tom Ridge had been the VP instead of Cheney we would never have heard of it. Halliburton would still have got the contracts, but there would have been one less paranoid fantasy.

 
At 9:20 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Zendo Deb said...

most Americans have pretty poor grasp of history. Most know some American history, not much, Few know any western history or world history. Being the product of a government school system that does not teach history is part of the problem.

Comparative religions? forget it.

Philosophy about Liberty, the proper function and structure of government? not even a little.

But these are just subjects needed for setting policy in Kosovo, or examining the effects of appeasement, or setting economic policy.

 
At 9:37 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Jean Lafitte said...

"I think it's the way their deep knowledge in a certain specialized area (in his case, literature) combines with a failure to research much outside the range of that knowledge, and the resultant arrogance and ignorance they display without their even realizing it."

But you see, their knowledge of literature convinces them that they have knowledge of everything. After all, the entire purpose and function of literature, fiction or nonfiction, is to enable readers to understand, mentally and emotionally, things they have not personally experienced or even could not have personally experienced.

So those who have mastered literature are easily tempted into believing they have mastered the entirety of human experience, giving them the right to pontificate on what is correct or incorrect for everyone. In fact, they have a point. Deep knowledge of literature does give you a lot of information about the human condition.

But it doesn't make you infallible.

 
At 10:13 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger David Thomson said...

“Deep knowledge of literature does give you a lot of information about the human condition.

But it doesn't make you infallible.”

Howard Bloom is overall a shabbily educated man. Reading great literature is simply not enough. I’m sorry but one must also spend a great deal of time studying economic theory, political science, and other nonfiction works. Moreover, the latter are far more important than fiction. Perhaps only one hour in four should be invested in make believe. Anymore than that---and you are likely to get quite goofy. I wonder what Tom Wolfe’s typical day is like? He seems to have his act together.

 
At 10:18 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Pastorius said...

I liked Bloom's The Western Canon, but I also like Bush. My admiration for Bush beats my admiration for Bloom.

The funny thing is, The Western Canon has been disparaged in the academic community in the same way, and for the same reasons, as Bush's approach to leading America has been disparaged in the political community.

Bloom is a conservative academician (not to be confused with a political conservative). The Western Canon asserts the idea that there is a Canon of books whose ideas, and style supersede all other books. In fact, all other books are built on the ideas and styles of the canonical books. Genius is born of natural gifts combined with a singularly self-absorbed vision which causes the writer to attempt to imitate his favorite authors in a manner which is uniquely flawed by his inoborn genius.

The implications, and foundations of Bloom theory of genius, and Canon have caused him to be criticized for

1) listing a canon of authors who are mostly white

2) asserting that there are absolute standards of beauty and goodness in art.

Who cares whether an author is white. But, the fact of the matter is, Western Civilization was the first to take up the great project of Democracy and human rights, so it is no wonder that creativity would have flourished here first. Thus, more white authors.

And, as to the idea that there are absolute standards of beauty and goodness, there is no doubt that that is a conservative idea.

Now, as to Bloom's criticism of Bush, maybe he's just trying to win his way back into the good graces of Academia.

 
At 10:20 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Pastorius said...

Oh, by the way, among Bush's reading habits, is reading the entirety of the Bible once a year.

That, in itself, is quite an education.

 
At 10:22 PM, December 18, 2005, Anonymous bob said...

Clueless, clueless, clueless. No wonder Bloom thinks you're a bunch of philistines.

 
At 10:32 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger SippicanCottage said...

I'm sorely tempted to just fool around, and say:
"If I read all those books, my lips would sure be tired, Mister Bloom."

But you know, I'm a sucker for lists like that. And I was surprised there was so much worthwhile stuff on it. I figgered it would just be Noam Chomsky's entire oeuvre, with Old Noam's grocery lists and cocktail napkin scribblings in case you missed the point the first go round. And some Ovid or something.

Reading all his suggestions wouldn't do you any harm I suppose, but what good did it do Harry? He simply trumpets the same puerile semi- paranoid delusions, steeped in a profound ignorance of economics, management, and, well, everything outside the library as his first year students, only with better spelling. He reminds me of the kind of person standing on the corner forty years ago with mimeograph ink all over his hands handing out screeds against, well, he was really against it, whatever it was, I'm telling you.

The lamebrain idea that wisdom is a form of mental weightlifting, whether or not you learned something worthwhile or just memorized the phonebook, would be funny if this guy was still on the street screeching "The world will end yesterday!" and making passersby miss the nice Hare Krishna that used to work that corner. But he's been given authority over the education of bright children, and they're going to end up smoking dope and reading Howard Zinn books and working behind the counter at Kinko's instead of getting real jobs with the man and paying for my Social Security retirement.

And when I'm retired, I'm going to read the rest of those books.

Or garden.

 
At 11:05 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger David Thomson said...

"Clueless, clueless, clueless. No wonder Bloom thinks you're a bunch of philistines."

I also have bad breath and refuse to use underarm deodorant.

 
At 11:12 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger Pancho said...

profiteers of our Iraq crusade are big oil (House of Bush/House of Saud)

What a bunch of blather which, of course, the average uneducated reader may assume to be true just because it is in print and uttered by an "academic".

The Bush's, even in their oil business heyday, could never be considered "Big Oil" nor would they want to be. They were proud independents. My wife was the Presidents secretary during many of his days in the oil business. George was known for his frugality, from his old clothes down to his office space which was in an older building furnished with used desks. Unless he owns Big Oil stock, like millions of average Americans, I know of now direct connection to the oil business these days.

 
At 11:37 PM, December 18, 2005, Blogger AcademicElephant said...

You know, they keep saying Bush is stupid, and then someone like Bloom writes with a straight face:

"The economist-journalist Paul Krugman..."

Pot...meet kettle?

 
At 12:26 AM, December 19, 2005, Anonymous Gerard Van der Leun said...

The standard issue view that Bush is stupid is, of course, neither new nor illuminating. It has been the First Commandment of the "Real Citizens" of the US since well before the election of 2000. It reads, "Thou shalt always believe that Bush is dumb."

Questioning commandments is not allowed so exactly how a man becomes President (the most arduous job interview in history) without being intelligent is never even asked. It can't be asked since the answer is "He can't" and that brings down the whole house of cards they have piled up halfway to heaven.

Bloom and the millions like him have now entered completely into a vast reality distortion field and cannot extricate themselves. To admit even a smidgen of the truth of the actual reality of America in 2005 is to have to admit that their entire shared "reality" is in the world dimensional a mass delusion.

But there has to be some reason why an "obvious moron" can be President. More and more that reason is given as "The People are stupid." This from a party and an intellectual traditon that gave us such native geniuses as Wood Guthrie and Carl Sandberg ("The People, Yes.").

The unreasoning anger at Bush has now begun to spread out into a widening anger at "The People." It will intensify since one of the chief ways of identifying those who are suffering from a state of severe and unremitting high anxiety is through their expressions of irrational anger.

It might well be a case of "Those whom the Gods would destroy, they first make intellectually insane."

 
At 3:33 AM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Foobarista said...

These "public intellectuals" are a bunch of useless gasbags. I'll take a dozen or so bloggers (neo being one) over any of these old farts any day of the week.

 
At 6:21 AM, December 19, 2005, Blogger T J Olson said...

The myth of dumb Pubbie president's has bamboozled Democrats ever since Eisenhower. Why should Bloom be any different?

The best book by Harold Bloom is "Shakespeare: Invention of The Human." After that, one may cease.

As for anonymous' remark: "A shame that an intellect ostensibly trained to view the sweep of human history cannot sense any history afoot in [his or] her time." It's true. But why?

My sense is that Lefties lost their compass when the Soviet Union fell. Moral and politicall maps ceased to matter when communism was gone. Thus, I expect grad school to equip me to teach subjects like "Contemporary American and World History" so that the young don't fall into the trap of a useless, irrelevant history. A usable past involves a usable - and especially a desirable - future because I expect to live there, and I want those who come after me to share a connection to it.

Thus, most Lefty's are defeated, pessimistic, and exhausted, having little or nothing to contribute to today's moral and political debates. Except defeatism.

 
At 8:44 AM, December 19, 2005, Anonymous Paul said...

Harold Bloom has done a great deal in the world of books and I have read many of his tomes with pleasure ; however, he should stick to literature which he knows as opposed to commentary on politics which is a slippery slope for him!

 
At 9:25 AM, December 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bloom is just one more intellectual Liberal who is tranforming the basic concepts of Liberalism into a fraudulent cause.

 
At 10:12 AM, December 19, 2005, Blogger N. O'Brain said...

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly.

Specialization is for insects."

-Robert A. Heinlein

 
At 11:40 AM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Kurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:43 AM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Kurt said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11:48 AM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Judith said...

Bloom omits Bush's MBA from Harvard Business School, which AFAIK does not give "gentlemen's Cs."

 
At 11:52 AM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Kurt said...

Aaarrrggghh... I've tried posting this a few times, but I can't get my link to work correctly. Here we go one more time.

Your comments about Bloom's column, particularly those I've quoted below seem quite apt:

I think it's the way their deep knowledge in a certain specialized area (in his case, literature) combines with a failure to research much outside the range of that knowledge, and the resultant arrogance and ignorance they display without their even realizing it. Because they are smart and highly erudite in one discipline, and are used to pontificating within that discipline (and receiving praise and respect when they do), people such as Bloom often appear to lack the intellectual curiosity--and humility--to wonder what it is they don't know about other things, and to try to learn.

Not only is that the case with Bloom--and with many academics who are content to sniff about the stupidity they see represented not just by Bush but by American voters generally--but in some respects, things have always been this way in Western civilization.

One of the most delightful of Plato's dialogues is the one entitled "Ion," where Socrates questions the rhapsode Ion about his art, and where it becomes very clear that Ion doesn't really have much knowledge or understanding of what it is he does so well, nor does he have much knowledge of the world beyond his art. Although Bloom would most likely say that the Ion represents a crucial dialogue in the famous dispute between Poetry and Philosophy, I always think of Ion when I hear some smug academic revealing his ignorance of subjects beyond his field of expertise.

Maybe this time the link will work: "Ion."

 
At 12:42 PM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Old Dad said...

Wasn't it William F. Buckley who quipped that he'd rather be governed by the first few hundred names in the phonebook than by the faculty at Harvard?

I enjoy blooms lit crit, but his intelligence doesn't prevent him from making an ass of himself.

 
At 1:07 PM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Motor 1560 said...

Neo: Once again I am amazed by the depth and range of your comentariat.

Beginning to sound like a real salon in here.

 
At 4:47 PM, December 19, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The amazing thing is that someone could be blinkered enough to consider Western civilization to reside solely in its literature.

What about science, arguably our greatest achievement? I, for one, do not consider educated anyone who has not yet read Feynman's Lectures on Physics, something that I seriously think everyone should read. Much more important, satisfying, and transcendant than 90% of the self-absorbed rubbish Bloom recommends.

 
At 7:50 PM, December 19, 2005, Blogger Ben Calvin said...

Though he possesses a Yale BA and honorary doctorate, our president is semi-literate at best.

Judith beat me to it but I wanted to emphasise that while Bush may have an honorary doctorate from Yale, he also posses a Master's in Business Administration from Havard, the first president to have earn an MBA.

 
At 12:30 AM, December 20, 2005, Blogger richard mcenroe said...

Now if President Bush wanted to liven this country up AND make Herr Doktor Professor Bloom's brain pop, he'd announce he reads "Destroyer" and "Executioner" novels...

 
At 8:26 AM, December 20, 2005, Blogger SippicanCottage said...

Hey Motor- You and the others belong in a salon. I belong in a saloon.

If you drop by, I'm buying...

 
At 10:36 PM, December 20, 2005, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

If Bloom really believed that wisdom derived thusly, he would have shown more respect to the thought of Tolkien and Lewis, both of whom read far more widely and deeply than he did. People say that this type of reading is what they respect, but their actions reveal that they respect a type of conclusion, not a type of learning.

 
At 3:08 AM, August 06, 2007, Blogger Mark said...

Bloom has always stated that reading teaches you to talk to yourself and not become wiser or etc.

 
At 3:50 PM, September 08, 2008, Blogger greg said...

I spent about a half hour reading the original posts and all the cheerfully cooperative comments that followed. I am astounded. Hardly any of you managed to address Bloom's admittedly apocalyptic doom-predictions, (couched in his usual melancholy) with any sort of specificity. Those who tried completetly missed his point. Perhaps, after all, there is an all-too-prevalent rift between "elites" and regular people, though I wouldn't wish it so. And in this case, not a single one of us "regulars" has managed to catch on to Bloom's ironic/comic portrayal of American affairs. Many have accused him of being marginally educated, only having read "literature" and not "logic" and "the Art of War", as if we still lived in feudal barbarism. But, you have had to reimagine Professor Bloom in your own image in order to discredit him. Do a little more research and find our just what exactly he's read, and written on; not just the stuff Barnes & Noble happens to place on Bestseller stands for a month.

How are his "writing skills mediocre?" His uncanny prose is some of the most riveting of all literary criticism, ever. Read "Yeats" or his work on "Shelly" or "Wallace Stevens: The Poems of our Climate". Read his Biblical scholarship. The list goes on. No, he is not a professional Logician, Historian, or War Planner; he is a literary critic. That being said, he is well known to draw in vast learning from many disciplines in many of his books. Read. Read. Read. His enjoyable book The Western Canon is just one of them. (it is also the most purposefully antagonistic and playful, and apocalyptic)

He isn't british, either. Thank God.

 

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