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Harold Bloom expands upon his controversial theory of revisionism, which he views as a contest of opposing artistic and moral drives.
Posted April 9, 2001
This work, a collection of essays by Harold Bloom on several interlocking themes, demonstrates the almost total domination of Friedrich Nietzsche over Ivy League literature departments. Bloom has embraced Nietzsche's teutonic nihilism but has put a cheery, American face on it by trying to marry it with pragmatism. Since the herd of mankind are contemptible to Nietzsche but the voice of God to William James this critical stance is self-contradictory. Above all, Bloom tells us, criticism must be provocative and useful. Since it is not always pragmatic to be provocative (something which Nietzsche knew) nor is it very provocative to be pragmatic we wonder about Bloom's ideas regarding the proper role of criticism. This contradiction runs throughout the work and it is rather disheartening to think that Bloom could not or did not understand it. It would seem that the voice of the bourgeois professor seeking public approval undermined the divine madness of the lonely, antinomian creator in his soul. If this were the only problem with the work we could let it pass with only a mention but, as it happens to be the case, Bloom's work is a celebration of misunderstanding and elaborate, cumbersome constructions. While it is undoubtedly the case, as he states, that some poets 'misread' their predecessors and made this 'misunderstanding' the point of departure for their own work, the insistance that this is *the* important nexus of their creation is undoubtedly wrong. In Bloomian language, the assertion isn't 'pragmatic' though it may be provocative for the wrong reasons. [As a counter-example we will cite Heinrich Von Kleist, whose work shows a thorough understanding of the consequences of Kantian philosophy, and this understanding is a strong influence upon his writings.] As an aid to these 'misreadings' Bloom presses aspects of gnosticism, kabbalah, and psychoanalytic theory into service, lending a bit of credibility to the suspicion that overconsumption leads to flabby thinking. While denouncing the franco-heideggerians for their prejudices, Bloom seems utterly incapable of recognizing that his own patchwork readings stem from the very same source as their deconstructionist excesses: Nietzschean will-to-power. And it is, in the end, his analysis of poems where we must concentrate our energies. As we do this we are struck by his rather underdeveloped sensibilities. There is an old wive's tale that strong drink will stunt a child's growth; we can surmise that strong doses of advanced, extra-literary theory has the same effect upon the sensibilities of would-be critics. Bloom cannot interact with a poem on its own terms and feels compelled at all times to read Freudian constructions into the work (eg. this represents the absent mother, the fear of castration, the phallus, etc). We note-in-passing that Freud's writings resemble bad fiction much more than the 'scientific' discipline he thought it was. Bloom further complicates matters by attempting to create a matrix whereby any poem he speaks of can be related to themes of gnosticism or kabbalah, also themselves ultimately reducible to absent mothers, the horrendum pudendum, etc. Oddly enough, while grinding poems into hamburger he fails to argue why we should be reading this-or-that poet; why we should read poetry at all. There are some incoherent remarks about the dessicated condition of philosophy but we might counter with the observation that Bloom felt no remorse in plundering it for what he needed. It is odd to conceive of the idea that a professor of literature at Yale is actually a vulgar relativist but the possibility rears up its head as we grapple with Bloom. In the end, 'Agon' leaves us with the impression of a professor writing for other professors but believing that he is founding a new religion. There is nothing more depressing than the thought of an academic 'founding' a new religion.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.