Friday, August 01, 2008

Life in Bloom

From McKee, we go to Bloom. I have certainly castigated the man for his infernal ubiquity, but in recent days, via the poet David Rosenberg’s collaborations with him (The Book of J; Dreams of Being Eaten Alive: The Literary Core of the Kabbalah), I find myself falling big time for the brontosaurus. I’m in danger of overloading this village with Bloom memorabilia—nearly every sentence in his Jesus and Yahweh is a delicious gauntlet throwdown. I was going to say that Bloom has reached an eminence where he can say whatever he damn well pleases, but my sense of the man is that there probably never was a time when he didn’t feel this way. And for good reason.

For now, Round I (from a Eurozine interview between Harold Bloom and Ieva Lesinska, dated 26 October 2004; the link is here):

HB: …Of course, the United States is in a terrible condition, we have a kind of fascist regime here – I think it's the real truth about it and you can quote me on that. A few years ago, when I was in Barcelona receiving the national prize of Catalonia, I remarked when somebody asked me a question about president George Bush: "He is semiliterate at best, to call him a Fascist would be to flatter him." He has now sufficiently grown in depth that you are no longer flattering him by calling him a Fascist – it is simply a descriptive remark. And yet the United States is not a dead country – primarily because it still allows people to come in here – of course, this fascist regime is trying to keep them out, but the lifeblood of this country has always been immigration…

IL: …You have talked about reading as a certain kind of an escape from the cruelties of life.

HB: Yes, my dear child, it's the same thing. I don't distinguish between certain kinds of reading, writing, and teaching – they seem to me a part of the same kind of activity. I can't give up any of the three and still be myself. Also, I have taught for fifty-two years – the longest continuity of my life. In some kind of superstitious way, I would consider it a kind of dying to give up such a long continuity. Also, by teaching I bear witness to the insistence on aesthetic values and wisdom. You know, I am very glad you liked that little book I wrote, I think it's more even than the new one. I feel that in that Hamlet book I really let myself go, I allowed myself – if only once – to write for myself, even though I found myself saying things that I know other people have difficulty understanding and which they consider extravagant.

IL: What are some of these things?

HB: Well, for instance, that Hamlet starts to fight back against Shakespeare, that he attempts to rewrite the play that he is in, that he has a kind of authority of consciousness, that even more than Falstaff he breaks away from Shakespeare. He is so gifted that, to quote Nietzsche, "He does not think too much, he simply thinks too well." He knows too well, he understands too well, he has thought to the end of thought. He has thought himself into an abyss that is nothing. Of course, Hamlet moves us because there are all these hints about transcendence, but to me, it's the darkest literary work I have ever read, its implications are simply shattering.

IL: I think I can more or less intuit what horror understanding represents for him. Yet I still wonder why he doesn't simply kill himself, why he has to do away with seven other people?

HB: Good question. He is simply not the nicest guy in the world. He is as much a villain as he is a hero. He transcends these categories as he transcends any category.

IL: As I was reading the book, I found myself wondering where you place yourself, the author, in your own scheme of things? You say it's Hamlet's consciousness expanding, Hamlet is wiser than all of us including Shakespeare. Where does that put you, the person talking about Hamlet and the play, and Shakespeare?

HB: It is a very wise question and a very apt one. (Long pause) I think that the special power of Shakespeare is to pack more in Hamlet than there is in Falstaff or Cleopatra or Iago or Lear, but probably the other thing is that we cannot exhaust Shakespeare in meditation. Yes, I suppose I can count myself in the picture. Shakespeare more than any other writer allows the reader's consciousness to expand. Hamlet's consciousness is extraordinarily wide and it becomes an interesting question whether or not he ever really is mad. And I don't think he is, if he says "I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw." I think my meditation, even though I try to be a faithful reader and a useful literary critic...I think that when Shakespeare and Hamlet together expand my consciousness to its limits, my consciousness starts to get the point.

IL: What is that point?

HB: I run into my own limits, not so much from the aesthetic apprehension, but partly from encountering wisdom, I have to say I have no wisdom. I was wondering about that as a child and now am wondering again as an old man: what are my peculiar gifts? I am not so sure. The speed of reading, the speed of picking things up, the extraordinary memory – what is all that? So I know all my Shakespeare by heart, I know my Goethe. I know there has to be some kind of intellectual power that accompanies such gifts, but they are not of themselves counted as gifts, they are something else, they simply indicate the frontier to psyche and physiology. At times, I run into my own obsessions – that is, my own strength and weakness as a literary critic and a teacher, and writer – I have to personalize everything. I think readers like it a great deal or dislike it a great deal, the same way my students like or dislike me a great deal. Because, like Walt Whitman, addressing the readers of his poetry, I sort of reach out, I shake the reader, I say, listen to me, you know – very urgently, and very personally, very emotionally. I understand that while it gives me a kind of immediacy, it is also a limitation. So it is not just a question of wisdom, it gets rather complex. I find your question very interesting, but I guess the best answer is that I am still trying to establish where I am in all this. I would not want to be Hamlet because, as I grow old and ill, I attach much more importance to being rather than knowing.

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Blogger Devil Mood said...

As I was reading this I wondered: what if I become a published author one day and a reporter comes and asks me questions that are completely beyond me? ;)
And when he says he is really unwise...well, I don't buy it. Funny people writers, heh? ...

7:19 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

DM: It's a rare reporter that will ask anything beyond you, unless they are writers themselves. But, just in case, not knowing is a perfectly legitimate response.

I'm of two minds on Bloom and the matter of wisdom: part of me thinks that he must have a very specific sense of what he calls wisdom, and sees within his peers - his peers being Shakespeare, Cervantes, Homer, the Yahwist J - that he falls short. On the other hand, he is also wise enough to know that a wise man seldom declares himself to be so.

I also think it's pretty cool that he in no way equates his magnificent brilliance with wisdom.

A neat interview, and I am now reading the Hamlet book (Poem Unlimited) they reference. Wonderful meditations on the Dane and his creator.

10:43 PM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

Writers can answer almost anything. Well, thats what I think!


Liberate yourself

8:51 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

GT: I think you're right on that: why else be poets and fictionists?

9:52 AM  
Blogger San said...

Amazing interview, Paschal!

I really must go re-read Hamlet. Now.

And I love what Bloom had to say about intellectual gifts, even BIG ones, being mere indicators to psychic frontiers--that's wisdom right there.

4:50 PM  
Blogger danni said...

i think this guy could talk his way into or out of just about anything - some of what he has to say sounds like he's making it up as he goes along and weaving it into cicles - he may not be wise, but he is clever for sure!!!

5:14 PM  
Blogger tumblewords said...

Very interesting! Thanks for the information!

6:17 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: Bloom just continues to amaze during this binge I'm on. By all means, let him walk you through his meditations on Hamlet, but I'm even more amazed by his Jesus and Yahweh, which is a sublime meditation on these two amazing "creations" in Western literature.

9:07 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

I'm with you, danni. There are at least 2,000 archive vaults in this man's being.

9:08 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

You are welcome, tumblewords. Most welcome.

9:10 PM  

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