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Posts Tagged ‘Harold Bloom’

Solitary and Authentic Deep Readers

July 11, 2014 | by

In his Art of Criticism interview from our Spring 1991 issue, Harold Bloom tells of a kind of literary conversion experience:

I was preadolescent, ten or eleven years old. I still remember the extraordinary delight, the extraordinary force that Crane and Blake brought to me—in particular Blake’s rhetoric in the longer poems—though I had no notion what they were about. I picked up a copy of the Collected Poems of Hart Crane in the Bronx Library. I still remember when I lit upon the page with the extraordinary trope, “O Thou steeled Cognizance whose leap commits / The agile precincts of the lark’s return.” I was just swept away by it, by the Marlovian rhetoric. I still have the flavor of that book in me. Indeed it’s the first book I ever owned. I begged my oldest sister to give it to me, and I still have the old black and gold edition she gave me for my birthday back in 1942. It’s up on the third floor. Why is it you can have that extraordinary experience (preadolescent in my case, as in so many other cases) of falling violently in love with great poetry … where you are moved by its power before you comprehend it? In some, a version of the poetical character is incarnated and in some like myself the answering voice is from the beginning that of the critic.

A few years later, in 2000, Bloom appeared on C-Span’s Booknotes in support of How to Read and Why. In the excerpt above, the host, Brian Lamb, gets him on the subject of teaching; and Bloom, who’s been a member of the Yale faculty since 1955, becomes visibly moved as he vacillates on the degree of isolation he feels:

Do I feel isolated in America? Yeah, I guess in a way I do. It does seem to me … I’m a somewhat outspoken old monster. You know, why not, at my age—what can they do to me? One wants to tell the truth. And I think the truth is pretty dreadful nowadays, culturally speaking and intellectually speaking … I guess I can feel kind of isolated. Isolated, maybe, in the profession. Isolated in terms of the media … But not isolated with the reading public … Clearly there are a vast number of what I would call solitary and authentic deep readers in the United States who have not gone the way of counterculture, and they are of all ages, and all races, and all ethnic groups.

And toward the end of the segment, as he blinks tears out of his eyes:

Here I am about to turn seventy and maybe I am obsolete, but that’s just personal inadequacy … What I hope to represent, what I try to represent, that cannot be obsolete. If that is obsolete, then we will go down. But I’m being too emotional. I’m sorry.

Bloom is eighty-four today, and still teaching. Happily his work is no closer to obsolescence than it was fourteen years ago.

The entire episode of Booknotes is available here.

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Reagan the Joker; Reagan the Joke

February 17, 2014 | by

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Ronald Reagan on a whistle-stop train tour, 1984

BLOOM

Not long ago President Reagan, who should be remembered only for his jokes because his jokes I think are really very good, was asked how it was he could have managed eight years as president and still look so wonderful. Did you see this?

INTERVIEWER

No.

BLOOM

It was in the Times. He said, “Let me tell you the story about the old psychiatrist being admired by a young psychiatrist who asks, ‘How come you still look so fresh, so free of anxiety, so little worn by care, when you’ve spent your entire life sitting as I do every day, getting worn out listening to the miseries of your patients?’ To which the older psychiatrist replies, ‘It’s very simple, young man. I never listen.’ ” Such sublime, wonderful, and sincere self-revelation on the part of Reagan! In spite of all one’s horror at what he has done or failed to do as President, it takes one’s breath away with admiration.

—Harold Bloom, the Art of Criticism No. 1

* * *

TRILLIN

I’ve often said that someone trying to write satirically in this country faces the problem of writing something sufficiently bizarre so that it might not come true while his article is on the presses. The Reagan Administration was difficult that way. Once, at a reception for big-city mayors in Washington, President Reagan was approached by his own Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and the president said, Hello, Mr. Mayor, how are things in your city? Now, what does that leave for me?

—Calvin Trillin, the Art of Humor No. 3

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In Memoriam: John Hollander

September 3, 2013 | by

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During his five-decade career as a poet, the late John Hollander was a frequent contributor to The Paris Review. He was also renowned as a scholar and critic. Here he is remembered by two former students, our contributor Jeff Dolven and editor Lorin Stein.

John Hollander once told me a story that served him as a kind of ur-scene of explanation. As a boy he was sitting with his father at the breakfast table, and he asked, apropos of nothing he could later recall, “Dad, what is a molecule?” By way of an answer, his father reached into the sugar bowl and lifted out a cube.

“So what is this?” his father asked.

“Sugar,” said John. Next his father set the cube down on the table and rapped it sharply with a teaspoon, so that it broke into coarse crystals.

“And what is it now?”

“Sugar,” said John again.

“Well then,” said his father, “a molecule is the smallest piece of sugar you can get that’s still sugar.” The grown-up John delivered the last sentence like a punchline, laughing and widening his eyes and spreading his hands. Read More »

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Laughing in the Face of Death: A Vonnegut Roundtable

April 11, 2013 | by

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Birds were talking. One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’”

Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut

A well-constructed e-mail and some guts on my part had one day inspired Harold Bloom to send me the phone number of his editor. A few days later I began writing for his literary criticism series with what was then Chelsea House and what is now Infobase Publishing. I put together two works on Tennessee Williams and a revamp of a guide to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness before I was contracted to write a book called How to Write About Kurt Vonnegut. Most of what I had read of Vonnegut’s work I had read long ago, and I had seen Vonnegut only once at a forum in Connecticut in 2006, where he appeared onstage with Joyce Carol Oates and Jennifer Weiner, the three of them parodying a dysfunctional family in a scene that led to much laughter. The theater, however, was completely absent of sound when an audience member asked a cultural-political question and Weiner sputtered, “I wasn’t expecting to have to deliver a message about humanity tonight.” “Well, leave,” was Vonnegut’s response. It was this Vonnegut moment that featured prominently in my mind’s reel as I packed notebooks, an inordinate number of pens, and several of Vonnegut’s novels in my bag that July in preparation for a trip to Boston. Once there, I read and took notes on one Vonnegut book per day from my room. (The hotel that I checked into, the Liberty, had served as a jail until a revolt over poor inmate conditions in the early 1970s led to its obsolescence and subsequent evolution into luxury accommodations.)

When I got tired of being cooped up I moved to the lobby, where I witnessed absurdities such as a woman pushing a very small dog in a stroller and smiling, goofing tourists wandering the open tiers of what had once been rows of jail cells, and sometimes I wandered up Charles Street and popped into the local antique stores. I couldn’t afford most of what was in them, but haggled in one shop over the purchase of an antique blue-and-white tile which featured a single bird—a bluebird. It was a difficult trip, hot and coming on the tails of a year in which nothing went as planned and which involved the full stock and variety of deaths that is possible in one human year. And so I had to have this tile (symbol of happiness, you understand), and I turned over my last ten dollars to acquire it, and I read each book that week with the tile tucked away next to me, wrapped in paper in my bag. And in the strange, beautiful ways that life and art—life and fiction—can converge, I became certain that I was now living in a Vonnegut novel, filled with dark and strange humor and impossible—weren’t they? shouldn’t they be?—absurdities. The only highlight of the trip was an evening concert, one of Beethoven’s symphonies played live by the Charles River, and I sat on the ground listening with my pants growing damp from the remnants of a recent downpour. “Music,” Vonnegut said, “makes practically everybody fonder of life than he or she would be without it.” But I wasn’t feeling fond, and I returned home having worked hard but defeated. I put the tile away on one of my bookshelves. It wasn’t until one day—after I had finished the book and had grown tired of burdens and hungry for laughter—that I saw it again. I had placed the tile so that the bird was caught in an endless nosedive. And look at its tail! What had made me think that it was a bluebird? It had the tail of a peacock! With it seeming like the natural thing to do, I turned it so that its beak was pointed skyward, so that this strange bird—a bluebird with the tail of a peacock—was now a triumphant phoenix. A ridiculous bluebird-peacock-phoenix. The summer had ended and so had the heat. And things had gone on. Poo-tee-weet.

On the eve of the anniversary of Vonnegut’s death, I asked Ben Greenman, David Holub, Rick Moody, Josip Novakovich, and Avi Steinberg about their own memories of Vonnegut’s work and about why everyone else should remember it, too.

How has Vonnegut influenced or informed your own work?

Ben Greenman: Through moral rigor, though not in any of the predictable ways. As a younger reader, which is when I had my strongest connection to Vonnegut—maybe not my most meaningful, but my strongest, in the fashion of first love—I took a preteen tour through Mother Night and Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle. The things that I dimly and germinally felt about war and technology and religion and the different—but similar—risks to humanity inherent in all of them were laid out quite clearly. As time has moved along, the sources of the risks have shifted slightly, for purposes of camouflage, but the risks remain. Read More »

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TPR vs. The Nation; or, The Evening Redness in Lower Manhattan

June 18, 2012 | by

Team    |1|2|3|4|5|6|7   Total

TPR     |0|0|3|0|0|1|0    4
NAT     |5|0|0|0|4|0|X    9


Within the first minute the slaughter had become general. —Blood Meridian


Themes found in Cormac McCarthy’s grotesque 1985 masterpiece, Blood Meridian, hereby presented in descending order relative to how closely they can be applied to a postgame dissection of last week’s softball game against The Nation:

1. Destruction, Chaos
Blood Meridian is essentially a chronicle of destruction, a hurricane of terrible things like knives and guns and dead babies. This game, while not a massacre of flesh, was nonetheless a massacre (maybe of the human spirit?). From the onset, our side played a sloppy game; a slew of early errors gave The Nation a first-inning lead they would not relinquish. Like in the novel, the slaughter was complete; unlike in the novel, it was mostly self-inflicted.

Read More »

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A Tiny Republic; Golden Eras

September 9, 2011 | by

Why is it that when I ask people in Los Angeles if they have heard of The Paris Review, they either know exactly what I am talking about or look at me with utter confusion?
—Susan, Los Angeles

Funny, the same thing happens back East. The fact is, for all its influence over the decades, The Paris Review has never had more than 20,000 subscribers at a time. Usually a lot fewer. On the other hand, last year we did a survey (not scientific, but not not scientific) and discovered that our subscribers tend to read the magazine from cover to cover. If you know the magazine, you generally know it cold. And you stand a passable chance of being a writer, or agent, or editor, or critic yourself. So, in the republic of letters, the Review is unavoidable, but that republic is tiny. (If you told most book-lovers that one single little magazine had published the first major stories of Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, and David Foster Wallace, very few would believe you. Which is to say, if The Paris Review didn't exist, no one would think to invent it.)

Plus, here we are, a quarterly published in English, in New York City, named after a city in France. A review that runs no reviews—only interviews. A fiction and poetry magazine whose founding editor was America’s most famous sportswriter, performance artist, and fireworks technician.

What’s not to be confused?

I just belatedly saw Midnight in Paris this weekend (I know, I know ... ). As Gil Pender puts it for 1920s Paris, what would be your “Golden Era” (if an enchanted vintage car could take you there)?
—S. Margaretta

Do you believe in golden eras? Was the sky any bluer when Hemingway wrote the last sentence of The Sun Also Rises? Later, of course, he looked back on that time with yearning, and his nostalgia is contagious: he and his friends had been young. And a few of them happened to write great novels in their youth. On the other hand, they saw the world as a ruin: the real world, the world they had looked to inherit, was destroyed in the war, never to be recovered. As for Paris, the great moment of art and literature in Paris had ended a decade before they got there.

I skipped the movie, but I saw the trailer, and I know the feeling—either you admit that Paris makes you nostalgic or you pretend you are someplace else. I’ve felt the same way in Kansas City. I feel it all the time in New York. The sight of Diane Keaton smoking a cigarette, banging on a typewriter, with a telephone—a real telephone—clamped against her ear fills me with longing more acute than any picture of Le Dôme. And it’s not because I prefer Woody Allen’s older movies, or because I do love the novels of the seventies, but because it all happened just about the time I was born and things started falling apart. Read More »

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