The Literary Salon

A free salon wherein patrons and passers-by may view or contribute ideas on literary and generally intellectual matters. The blog will strive to maintain its commitment to wit, humour and perspicuous analysis.

My Photo
Location: Toronto, now Ottawa, Ont, Canada

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Yutz from Yale and other matters

Apologies for the lack of posts recently: I'm not only knee deep in books but am simultaneously wrestling with my old nemesis, Sleep. In fact, I took some Nytol a few days ago and it produced the opposite effect, so no more of that.

I finally got around to reading Harold Bloom's Anxiety of Influence. I've read some of Bloom's other work, and I've known the gist of this particular book for years, but after reading, I've come to the conclusion that it's total baloney. Bloom takes a fairly "obvious" idea and dresses it up in mystical and Freudian jargon to sound legitimate. This humorous review does more justice to the work than I can, and it is also where I got the cheeky, alliterative portion of my title.

I respect Bloom for many reasons: he is a man of extraordinary erudition and chutzpah, i.e., he is not afraid to say something unfashionable. He is also capable of making very insightful, aphoristic observations. Here are two such examples from memory: "Shakespeare influenced the world more than the world influenced him," which is a response to those critics who would abrogate any authorial, aesthetic agency and attribute such "fantasies" to social energies, and "No other writer in the English language so resisted becoming a poet than Samuel Johnson."

Unfortunately, I find that Bloom will often follow insight with insanity, and I also noticed very early on in my reading of him a few years ago that he will contradict himself plainly, sometimes in the same paragraph or sentence (examples: he prefaces a quote by Nietzsche by saying that it chastised him and still haunts him to this day. He follows the quote by saying that it has never troubled him).

Having said all this, I guess my estimation of him is ambivalent. I will say this though: whatever his strengths, he is no theorist, just as Wordsworth was (at times) a wonderful poet, but no theorist. Come to think of it, Bloom is highly overrated. Like Hemingway before him, his fame probably rests more on his personality than work. Am I wrong?

I watched The Pursuit of Happyness [sic] online a few days ago. I must say that Will Smith is an impressive actor, despite what some have said, and the movie is, though extreme at times, poignant and visceral. I bring this up because I promised a friend some weeks ago that I would write a short piece on acceptable forms of racism in North American society, using Will Smith as the target of such racism. Stay tuned.

Apart from reading, I must finish OGS and SSHRC applications (Grants). UGH!! (I know one person here will feel my pain).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two quick knee jerk comments: I like a lot of Bloom's stuff (especially Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, and Hamlet: Poem Unlimited), but he definitely contradicts himself, and freely admits to it. He suggests more than once, or at least I remember him suggesting, that contradiction is inevitable in reading major authors. I'm not sure how much I buy it, but it can be entertaining.
Second: as an Americanist I have to quibble with the idea that Hemingway is overrated. You can probably count on one hand the number of major innovators in English prose style and he's one of them. I'd rank him closely with Woolf, Joyce and Faulkner in terms of high modernism's contributions to literary form. But, to each his own. We'll probably chat about it if we haven't already.


6:09 p.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home