Harold Bloom

Posted in Book Reports, GSU photo archive, The Internet, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on November 28, 2014









On September 3, 2000, Harold Bloom appeared on Booknotes to promote How to Read and Why. Other C-SPAN news that day involved Vice President Al Gore and Republican Presidential candidate George W. Bush. Mr. Bloom is a professor at Yale University. He has written many books, despite not knowing how to type. There is no false modesty on display.

A teacher is an entertainer, knowing the value of a good line. Over the years, platitudes pile up. Mr. Bloom has collects both books, and clever lines about books. “Oh, I read everything and anything. I’m a desperate reader. If I can’t find anything else, my wife is likely to find me obsessively re-reading cereal box tops in the morning. … I now call myself at times, partly in self-deprication, but partly, I suppose, with a certain fury Bloom brontosaurus bardolater; that is to say, not only a worshiper of Shakespeare, but a brontosaurus, a dinosaur. I’ve never learned how to type”

Fourteen years ago, the internet was still called the “World Wide Web.” It was very much a work in progress. Mr. Bloom viewed the information superhighway with horror. “But the Internet, which I acknowledge is an economic and commercial necessity–the Internet–and many people disagree with me on this, I know–the Internet, I think, is a terrible danger to the life of the mind. It’s a terrible danger to real reading because it’s a kind of great, gray ocean in which everything merges with everything else. And extremely difficult–it is extremely difficult for a young person to establish standards of reading or to find again what could be called intellectual and aesthetic standards of judgment in relation to what is available on it. There is no guidance.”

PG listened to the conversation with Mr. Bloom in the background. In the foreground, pictures were being edited.This is something you cannot do with a dead tree book. This went on happily until the shockwave player crashed, and the machine needed a reboot. This is something else that does not happen with traditional publishing.

“He got rather offended and explained to me, in rather hurt tones, that Sir So-and-so was the leading British authority on information retrieval. I told him honestly, and it’s still true, I did not know what information retrieval was, and I did not wish to find out, and I still don’t know what it is. I said, `Who is the other gentleman?’ And then he said, quite coldly, `He is our leading authority on software.’ I said, `I’ve never learned to type. I’m not at all sure what software is.’ He said, `It doesn’t matter.’ He said, `In any case, Professor Bloom, you ought to come. You will represent the book.’ I said, `This is ridiculous.’ I said, `You’re going to ask me to have a discussion with an authority on something called information retrieval and an authority on software, and I, wretched creature, am supposed to represent the book? I am highly inadequate to represent the book. Anybody would be. And I will not come. Goodbye, sir.’ But that is the British Library.”

Mr. Bloom tells of a visit to Stanford University. The only pleasant time he had was a conversation with the Provost, Condoleezza Rice. (spell check suggestion: Condolence) The rest of the time he decries the custom of teaching literature based on the ethnicity of the author. He tells the story of a desk, with the legs falling off. From clumsy carpentry, he moves onto brain surgery. “If you were being wheeled in for a brain operation, and you were told that the brain surgeon had been chosen on the basis of fairness, on the basis of universalism, on the basis of multiculturalism, you would jump right off the operating table. We do not enforce these things in the medical schools.”

This sounds nice in theory. In real life, the brain surgeon was determined by the willingness of a health insurance bully to pay. Reality is more frightening than fictitious furniture.

The Booknotes conversation took place during election season. The discussion of politicians was indicated. “Leon Trotsky, who was a great, though murderous, human being, but a remarkable writer. And in his own way, a remarkable literary critic.” “I find it powerfully offensive that one of the two major presidential candidates is perhaps the least distinguished graduate of the entire history of Yale University, and I’ve taught there for 46 years, though I never taught this gentleman. But he has boasted to the press, at least until his people told him to talk differently about it, but he began by boasting to the press that he had never read a book through since he left Yale. And indeed, he laughed, he hadn’t read many through there. And, of course, I believe him”

No discussion about Harold Bloom is complete without Naomi Wolf. “In the late fall of 1983, professor Harold Bloom did something banal, human, and destructive: He put his hand on a student’s inner thigh—a student whom he was tasked with teaching and grading. The student was me, a 20-year-old senior at Yale.” Is Bill Cosby going to be teaching at Yale?

The one star comments about the book are festive. “His prose is at times crisp, yet his reasoning wanders about like somnambulist on a treadmill.” “Instead I found myself dragged into a solipsistic rant of Mr. Bloom’s favorite books.” “Please do not waste your money on this book. Each section is devoted ostensibly to a “critique” of a work that Mr. Bloom recommends to his unwashed readers.” Pictures are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”.








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