Trashing Harold Bloom

This is from my Prison Diary. It’s quite unnecessary and I suppose unfair, given that Prof. Bloom is now deceased, but for someone just getting into reading literary criticism, it might be, um, “liberating.” Like hearing Wayne C. Booth say that Joyce’s Ulysses is obscure. So, with apologies…

Harold Bloom, literary critic (1930-2019)

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

{11/18/11} A quote from Harold Bloom: The Anxiety of Influence, Second Edition, Oxford |435B| University Press, New York, 1973/1997, pb.: “Oscar Wilde sublimely remarked that ‘all bad poetry is sincere.’ Doubtless it would be wrong to say that all great poetry is insincere, but of course almost all of it necessarily tells lies, fictions essential to literary art. Authentic, high literature [i.e., “What Bloom likes”—1/30/12] relies upon troping, a turning away not only from the literal but from prior tropes. Like criticism, which is either part of literature or nothing at all, great writing is always at work strongly (or weakly) misreading previous writing. Any stance that anyone takes towards a metaphorical work will itself be metaphorical. My useful (for me) decades-long critical quarrel with Paul de Man, a radiant intelligence [i.e., “Agrees with Bloom”—10/17/12], finally centered upon just the contention stated in the previous sentence. He insisted that an epistemological stance in regard to a literary work was the only way out of the tropological labyrinth, while I replied that such a stance was no more or less a trope than any other. [What is this but nonsense in a “clever” style? 10/17/12] Irony, in its prime sense of allegory, saying one thing while suggesting another, is the epistemological trope-of-tropes, and for de Man constituted the condition of literary language itself, producing that ‘permanent parabasis of meaning’ studied by deconstructionists.” p. xix-xx.

I don’t know what to make of this. It starts off sensibly enough, then makes several extraordinary claims, completely unsupported, then starts saying things I find completely obscure. I wonder whether Bloom even knows what he’s trying to say. Is it possible to take a metaphorical stance? What is an epistemological stance? What is “the tropological labyrinth”? Like so much literary criticism, this piles obscurity on obscurity, making itself odious.

Copyright 2022 (text only) by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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