Category Archive 'Harold Bloom'
14 Jan 2020
Harold Bloom, right, with John Ward of Oxford University Press in New York on April 17, 1970.
The Yale Alumni Magazine, in the latest issue, collects anecdotes about the late Harold Bloom, testifying to both his genius and his eccentricity.
Bloom was wearing a stretched-out orange sweater, and he had begun reading from the moving Conclusion to Walter Paterâ€™s The Renaissance. While continuing to recite (he knew this, like all texts, by heart), Bloom began to remove the sweater. But it got stuck as it passed over his head, so we could hear oracular utterances about lifeâ€™s irredeemable evanescence continue to come from out of a gyrating mass of wool, until, the garment subdued at last, Bloom pronounced: â€œThat is the most profound thing that was ever written.â€
–Richard Brodhead â€™68, â€™72PhD
Bird White Housum Professor of English at Yale
Dean of Yale College 1993â€“2004
President of Duke 2004â€“2017
Harold was as devoted a teacher as Iâ€™ve ever known. â€œI am,â€ he often said, â€œa teacher first and last, and theyâ€™re going to have to carry me out of the classroom in a coffin.â€ It came close to that: he taught on Thursday, and died on Monday.
He was hungrier for poetry than anyone I have ever encountered. Once, when my wife and I were over at the house on Linden Streetâ€”just after heâ€™d returned from a long stay at rehab following an illnessâ€”we were sitting in the living room and talking when Haroldâ€™s eyes shifted a little to the right of, and just above, my shoulder while I was midsentence. Heâ€™d spotted the mailman coming up the path to the front door, and interrupted me: â€œPeter, could you get the mail?â€ as we heard the storm door opening and the bundles hitting the floor. I brought them to him. He began ripping into envelope after envelope with his teeth, clutching his cane, and ignoring us entirely. â€œHarold, expecting something important?â€ I asked him. Without looking up, and in total seriousness, he answered: â€œMaybe someone has sent me a great poem.â€ Most writers I know run the other way when other peopleâ€™s poems draw near; there was the great Bloom, at 81 or so, just back from a hospital stay, panting after them like a golden retriever.
–Peter Cole, Senior Lecturer in Judaic Studies and
15 Oct 2019
Harold Bloom, Yale Sterling Professor of English, author of 40 books, and defender of the Western canon died yesterday at age 89.
Some Twitter comments on his death:
Armed with a photographic memory, Professor Bloom could recite acres of poetry by heart â€” by his account, the whole of Shakespeare, Miltonâ€™s â€œParadise Lost,â€ all of William Blake, the Hebraic Bible and Edmund Spenserâ€™s monumental â€œThe Fairie Queen.â€
Never speak ill of the dead, like Harold Bloom, who told my American lit seminar that we should feel free to report his sexism and homophobia to the university president who, Bloom explained, would rather hide under his desk than fire him.
Harold Bloom was once asked why he was writing a multi-volume history of literary theory. “I can’t sleep anyway,” he said.
In 1999, Emmy Chang of the Yale Free Press interviewed Professor Bloom, and got a good sample of Bloom talk.
YFP. In the Shakespeare book you mention that since Shakespeare, weâ€™ve taken more after Iago than Othelloâ€™weâ€™ve learned more from Iago. And I wanted to ask you if you thought that was Shakespeareâ€™s fault or if it was our fault.
HB. That questionâ€™s unanswerable because we have been so formed by Shakespeare. That I think is the irony of [the Tenure Action Coalition]â€™the words they use are frequently words that he invented, that werenâ€™t in the language until he coined them. I think that it was Owen Barfield who said that it can be positively humiliating for us to realize that what we want to call our emotions, turn out to be Shakespeareâ€™s thoughts. Shakespeare is the Canon because Shakespeare is ourselves, and the answer therefore to the question of, Is the way in which weâ€™ve imitated Iago our fault or Shakespeareâ€™s fault, is both. Iâ€™m not sure that until you have the representation you call Hamlet, that you have anywhere, (in any language Iâ€™m able to read anyway), someone who changes every time he or she speaks, and who does it by this weird thing of overhearing oneself, which I canâ€™t find before Shakespeare. But if youâ€™re really going to talk about Shakespeareâ€™s culpabilityâ€™so far as I can tell, Shakespeare invented what Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky, and others afterwards started to call nihilism. Itâ€™s a pure Shakespearean invention.
YFP. [I wondered] whether you think the people who say that Shakespeare has nothing to say to themâ€™whether itâ€™s just a question of their being unwilling to listen, or if itâ€™s actually possible that they canâ€™t hear.
HB. Let me tell you an anecdote. As part of the early manifestation of [the Cornell Revolution of â€˜68-â€˜69], the black students of the university were instructed by their leadership to go into the library stacks and bring out as many books as they could carry and just dump them on the front circulation desk with the dramatic statement, â€˜These books are irrelevant to me as a black student.â€™ And it so happened [that] I was trying to check out a book at just that moment, when a young lady dumped a huge armful of books right next to me and shouted, â€˜These books are irrelevant to me as a black student.â€™ And one slid over to meâ€™it was the Oxford edition of the Collected Poems of John Keats. And I said to the young lady, who scowled at me, â€˜Are you quite sure that the poetry of John Keats is irrelevant to you? Have you read any of the poems of Keats?â€™ And she looked at me angrily and repeated, â€˜These books are irrelevant to me as a black student,â€™ and off she marched. So. But what can I possibly say to that? Thatâ€™s ideological, isnâ€™t it? To arrive here and say that itâ€™s your function to obliterate the best that has been read, the best that has been thought and said, in thirty centuries. They should go somewhere else. If they really think Shakespeare is irrelevant to them, why do they want to go to a university anyway? To get a union card of some kind?
YFP. You said before that we read to learn to talk to ourselves.
HB. I am not, as you know, a Shakespeare scholar, just an enthusiastâ€¦I assume that reading Shakespeare with the whole intensity of your being and with your awakened mind, with all of you, itâ€™s bound to be a kind of training in consciousness. I assume that that is as good a way of awakening that [inner] spark, of lighting it up, or of making that pneuma, that breath, come faster, and stronger, than any other. [It] doesnâ€™t necessarily make you a better person, [but it] certainly [makes] you a more capacious soul than you were already. I really feel that I can teach a more or less receptive and sensitive Yale undergraduate how enormous a work Shakespeareâ€™s Hamlet isâ€¦ You can teach peopleâ€™you can open them to wonder. To more wonder. Which is what Shakespeare is for. I talked [in Shakespeare] about awe as being the proper response. Maybe the really proper response is wonder.
HT: John Brewer.
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