Middle Finger Of The Apocalypse: Harold Bloom

“Democracy, whether in Sweden or the United States, depends on the voter’s capacity to think. If you have read the best of what has been thought and said, then your cognition and understanding is on a much higher level than if you have read Harry Potter or Stephen King. So what this decline into half-literature and mediocre media really means is de facto a self-destruction of democracy.” (January 12, 2008)

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Don’t worry.  Harry’s brain is so powerful, his hair will brush itself.

Harold Bloom is an incredibly smart guy.  Certainly one of the most well-read, most erudite, most academic of American intellectuals.  He’s also the grown-up version of that kid we all went to high school with who used big words in class ostentatiously and at every available opportunity, made smugly pejorative remarks about sports, and trumpeted his ignorance of popular culture so that the rest of us knew he had no interest in paying attention to the same books, movies, and music as the rest of us rabble, and wore that ignorance like a badge of honor.  This kid, if there is any justice, spent a goodly portion of high school with his head in the toilet.

Bloom has long had his ivy-covered knives out for Stephen King.  He had a memorable freak-out in 2003, when the National Book Foundation bestowed upon King their award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters:

“The decision to give the National Book Foundation’s annual award for “distinguished contribution” to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I’ve described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis. The publishing industry has stooped terribly low to bestow on King a lifetime award that has previously gone to the novelists Saul Bellow and Philip Roth and to playwright Arthur Miller. By awarding it to King they recognize nothing but the commercial value of his books, which sell in the millions but do little more for humanity than keep the publishing world afloat. If this is going to be the criterion in the future, then perhaps next year the committee should give its award for distinguished contribution to Danielle Steel, and surely the Nobel Prize for literature should go to J.K. Rowling.”

I suppose its telling that a guy who breathes nothing but the rarified intellectual air that Bloom does (he is a Humanities professor at Yale University), can’t stop sniping at a guy like King, who swims in decidedly different cultural waters.  Popping up when his nemesis gets a major award is one thing, but doing a random drive-by in an interview 5 years later positively defines pathetic.  Especially when you consider Bloom excels at writing about great writers, but his own writing is boring as hell:

“The second, and I think this is the much more overt and I think it is the main cause, I have been increasingly demonstrating or trying to demonstrate that every possible stance a critic, a scholar, a teacher can take towards a poem is itself inevitably and necessarily poetic.”

Ick.  Here you go, Harold.

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“What do you think? You get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture? Never in life, as Capt. Lucky Jack Aubrey would say.” (Stephen King, National Book Foundation acceptance speech)

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23 Responses

  1. The poor student shouldn’t be so pround of his ignorance. Can’t keep up? Better go read your Stephen King and J.K. Rowling – prophets to the twitchers and droolers. I’ll take Prof. Bloom any day over American Idol or Super Bowl XLII (Roman numerals? Now that’s pretentious.) Loathing of popular culture doesn’t equal ignorance of pop culture. I think if I have to listen to one more inane conversation about whatever big game (oh, sorry: BIG GAME) is coming up the top of my head will come off which will certainly remove me from your world of fast cars, half-wit politicians, poorly written Grisham bestsellers and mind-numbing rap music. I hope you will at least bid me a well-earned R.I.P.

    • The thing is, you are perfectly free not to watch the Big Game, or listen to the mind-numbing rap…but it IS part of the culture in which you live. And to your point that loathing is not ignorance…Bloom explicitly does ignore the culture in which he lives. I do not know if you do, though you seem to say you do not. Sports can be banal and common and tacky…it can also be edifying. Rap can be atrocious… it can also be spectacular. J.K. Rowling is no great writer, but she tells pretty good stories. King is solid writer, who occasionally achieves excellence, and is a damned fine teller of stories. Great art should never be the enemy of good art, or of merely even competent art. The thing is, great art is so often not recognized at first glance, not even by erudite connoisseurs such as Bloom. Just ask Dickens, for one example.
      It is to the great benefit of mankind that Harold Bloom was not alive some ten thousand years ago, in the caves of Lascaux; his dis-appreciation of those awful paintings would likely have ended early mans attempt to express his felling about his place in the culture in which he lived. “Not up to snuff, I’m afraid,”

  2. As an afterthought: I really don’t mind if you and your lot wallow in King, Rowling, Grisham or any of the other ephemera that defines what you refer to as culture.

    As long as you simply leave me alone I am fine with it all. Like Morris Berman I believe that we are in or, at least, spiralling towards a new dark ages and nothing can be done to stop it. But we’ll go with a smile on our faces. For the record, I will go down in flames with the rest of you. There is no hiding from the barbarians as they storm across the frozen river towards Rome. So be it. Just don’t ask me to worship at your altar. I would really rather be burned at the stake. Medium-well, if you please. I don’t seek martyrdom, I just want to be left alone.

    Puritanical, anti-intellectual, Bushite, evangelical, faux-fascist, Republican America is welcome to its narcissistic ignorance. Cheers!

    At least you can articulate your position. That’s more than can be said for the rest of your cultural brethren. Your point may be ignorant, but you state it well enough. It’s a step up from “Eminem rocks, dude!”

    I’ll finish my rant here. It’s time to go get dressed for a performance of Twelfth Night. Yes, I’ll miss CSI:Des Moines, but I’m sure someone will tape it for me.

    • Librarian, was it really necessary to drag politics into this? Do you really think, Oh Unthinking and Reflexively Jerking Knee, that puritanical, anti-intellectual, evangelical, faux-racism and all its attendant narcissistic ignorance is strictly a Republican or right wing thing? Have you ever conducted a demographics poll at a Superbowl or a NASCAR or WWF event?

      Narcissistic ignorance, Librarian be thy name.

      Having utter disdain for American politics (neither Republican nor Democrat nor anywhere in between), your politically polarized myopia is nauseating at best.

  3. May I just say how delicious it is that in a post dripping with self-aggrandizing intellectual posturing, it is in your very first sentence that you have misspelled a simple, one-syllable word. Bad enough for you that you are an insufferable pedant, but you also prove to be a maladroit one, as well?

    But please, don’t be discouraged – I hope that you will direct Professor Bloom’s attention to your spirited indictment of popular culture…no doubt he will be quite “pround” of the fact that his nattering has inspired such enthusiastic, if not capable, acolytes.

  4. Damn! I hate it when I get sloppy. You’re right. I deserve a good thump with a copy of Bloom’s “The Western Canon” for such clumsiness.

    Actually, it truly is self-aggrandizing, but in this society how could anyone with a brain feel otherwise? You clearly have more brain cells than the average person at the mall – you certainly feel superior to me. Doesn’t that make you snarky? Well, obviously it does. We all feel that we are above-average.

    What I find truly insufferable is the ability of the LCD to find grand meaning in a typo. The tendency of the pop culture commentators to make all-encompassing indictments based on a single incident is shallow and lazy. I grew up with this sort of thing in every evangelical church I was ever stuck attending: Take a bible verse and make an entire theology out of it. Distortion through oversimplification is the trick of the politician – you might find a place as a demagogue. If it’s complex, condemn it as eggheaded and grab your foam finger for the football game.

    But Prof. Bloom doesn’t need me as an acolyte or you as a detractor. I think he will do just fine on his own, as will you and I. I’ll continue to ‘drip’ with intellectual posturing and you will continue to sneer at anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good episode of ‘Desperate Housewives’. I’m not asking you to join me for a night at the opera. But since when did a judgement of literary merit become fodder for “The Middle Finger of the Apocalypse”? (Oh, by the way, that was quite witty… drip, drip, drip.) If you have an argument, make it. Here’s mine: Bloom is right. King and Rowling are bad writers. Pop culture, as they say, sucks and I’d rather live in a nutshell. (Now how’s that for pedantic, eh?)

    Now, find my typos and pass judgement.

    Until then I am, as always,

    Your Friend

    • You offend, and clearly it is your intent to do so (you succeed, even 5 years on)…my real question is, why? You bemoan the approach of the barbarians, and decry the end of culture, but your words are, if not barbaric, at least mean-spirited, and your culture is self-satisfied and sneering. I honestly do not understand what this gains you, but then, I have never understood the ‘trolling’ that takes place on the internet.
      You take pains to let us know that you go to the theater and to the opera wiliest mocking people who attend sporting events…you condemn entire classes of people, disparage religions and political groups that you do not approve of, and then you try to take the high ground when someone call you on a spelling mistake. My friend, you started the name-calling, and did so with toffee-nosed glee; a little payback does not give you reason to play the injured party.
      Again, you engineered this response with your initial screed. I am a loss as to why you did it, though I doubt an answer will be forthcoming (certainly not likely, five years on). A foam finger at a football stadium does absolutely NOTHING to harm a societies culture; ugly insults hurled about on what COULD be a forum for civilized discourse, does. Try harder next time, please.
      PS: Rowling is indeed a fairly poor writer, prone to cliche and bad sentence structure…but she tells and pretty good story, something “good” writers often do not – and Steven King is a very solid writer, with strong command of language, and he occasionally produces work of exceptional quality.

  5. I can’t say anything for Rowling, as being male and over the age of 12, I have never read the Harry Potter books. King, on the other hand, is very, very good. I think “The Stand” is a genuine literary achievement, and “The Dark Tower” series is as well. I think that he excells at characterization, and as a fan of the horror genre, he gives me what I want – scares both visceral and psychological. If Harold Bloom disagrees, that’s fine, I just wonder why he finds it necessary to be so strident about it. Does the Ivy League humanities community devote that much attention to Stephen King? I hope not.

    Were I you, I’d let up on pop culture, or at least mentally edit it from your day. That’s the beautiful thing about the internet and 800 channels on cable – you can watch/read/listen to whatever you want, and ignore the rest. I used to get all fired up about shitty bands like Limp Bizkit or Good Charlotte having careers that made them rich, but then I turned 18 and realized that no one was putting a gun to my head and making me buy their CDs, and if they came on the radio, I could change the channel.

    Willfully ignoring that which you find to be fatuous can, I suppose, make you feel superior to what you are ignoring, but I like to think one can pick and choose one’s pleasure without becoming smug about it. Unlikable though some of our species may be, most of us have more good than bad inside, and we’re in this together after all. If watching bad TV or reading Harry Potter is enough for me to justify a snap judgment about a person’s overall worth, then it is I who truly lack substance.

  6. Well, the first thing that springs to mind is that Prof. Bloom doesn’t necessarily find Stephen King objectionable out-of-hand. He is clearly perturbed that a literary award given to the likes of Bellow and Roth could also be granted to Mr. King. His basic idea is that some writers are better than others and some are simply bad.

    I’m glad you like Stephen King and find something in his books that you can clearly articulate. That’s a very good thing. As Bloom notes there are much better writers who strive to achieve the effects you enjoy. Try Poe, try James’ ‘Turn of the Screw’, try de Maupassant’s ‘La Horla’ – you might find they give you the same chills with greater literary ability.

    I have no inclination to “let up” on pop culture for two reasons: first, it is ubiquitous. I like Ray Bradbury. I find him to be a very good writer, but a steady, unwavering diet of Bradbury would, and should, make me crazy. The problem is that the “shitty” music, the “shitty” books, the “shitty” movies and the “shitty” pictures have taken over. It is almost impossible to get away from the shit. It is a slimy, smelly layer over everything. Second, there is an anti-intellectual kernel at the heart of America. We view intelligence with great suspicion. Your comment earlier about the smart kid in class who liked to use big words and made pejorative comments about sports reminds how unwelcome any show of intelligence can be.

    It didn’t take long for me to discover as a child how unpopular it was to show any kind of curiosity, intellect or interest in anything academic. At some point I decided it was worth the derision to openly champion the things that virtually no one else liked. Why should I have to hide those interests? Is my snobbery towards pop culture any more offensive than yours towards the kind of intellectualism favored by Bloom? I don’t think so.

    When pop culture has value, I acknowledge it. The rest of the time I will continue to be nasty, superior, self-aggrandizing and cranky towards it. There is a judgement you and I can make. As Bloom puts it: “More than, less than or equal to…”

    You are far too intelligent to believe that all things are of equal merit. Maybe my response to pop culture is simply ‘tit for tat’, but I’ll continue to argue for what I believe in. Take your best shot for my mistakes on the way – I deserve them. But it won’t shut me up.

    Thanks again.

  7. If Bloom wants to speak up when King gets a major literary award, I can understand that. It’s the unprovoked sniping years later that I find singularly unattractive in a lettered man like Bloom, and I think it makes him look petty. When he does stuff like this, it gives the appearance that he suffers from an Ahab-level obsession with King. As for my own opinions, while I really like King, I also greatly enjoy Poe and own his complete works along with a brilliantly illustrated edition of “The Raven.”

    I think your charge that there is an “anti-intellectual kernel” at the heart of America is a canard. If you go back and read my post, I hope you understand that I don’t think kids like Bloom ought to be dunked in the toilet because they are smart, or like to read, but because they arrogantly let everyone know they are. I was a smart kid. I skipped grades, I won spelling bees, I had a bigger vocabulary than most of the kids in my class, and I was treated just fine though I never tried to “dumb myself down.” I had lots of friends, no one ever mocked me, and I fit in with no problems. It’s not hard to figure out why this happened – I knew I was smart, but I also knew not to be a dick about it. I never thought I was better than anybody else, or looked with disdain on the books they read or the music they listened to.

    Apparently your experience was different, and that is a shame – but as you admitted above, you grew up in an evangelical Christian environment. If I had to put up with evangelical pablum on a daily basis, I would likely also believe the country has been overrun with book-banning, Stars-and-Bars flying dolts. But it’s important to realize that such an experience does not characterize the entire country. I think that, especially once we’re free of childhood, intelligence is by and large favored and respected. But favor and respect are usually taken away when someone adopts a sanctimonious, hostile attitude towards the culture in which we all live. And that’s not because no one likes a smart kid, but rather no one likes an asshole.

    • Amen, you said it all, Arrogantly smart or arrogantly ignorant…both are offensive, but in the case of the smart person, it is doubly offensive. They should know better.
      However, I take exception with the way you lump all evangelical Christians together. I have known Evangelical’s who were fine, open-minded people. They are not all Jerry Falwell. Be opposed to the religious precepts, if you are so inclined, but it really is wrong to write off people before you meet them. In my fifty years, I have known exactly ONE Frenchman, personally, and he was a horses ass. I refuse to lump ALL French people under that experience.

  8. At this point we are both writing just to hear ourselves talk (I don’t quite know how to resolve that mixed metaphor): neither is convincing the other, but since I have already been awarded the “asshole” title I’ll go once more ’round the block.

    Bloom’s broadsides at King, et. al. are part of a lifelong criticism of second-rate literature masquerading as Great Books. Read the first few chapters of “The Western Canon” and see that Bloom’s argument is consistent and insightful. Reading King isn’t the problem, awarding him a literary achievement award for being the best is the problem. No one disputes King’s right to make millions and be adored by his fans, but don’t claim his place in the Canon. He just doesn’t deserve it.

    I have no problem with anyone reading King, Danielle Steele, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton or any other writer they get pleasure from. But defending them, and the rest of pop culture, as the best of the West is absurd.

    Your web posting with the ‘Middle Finger of the Apocalypse’ (an incoherent, muddled image) is the ‘drive by’. You prove my point with this page: don’t express criticism of pop culture or you run the risk of being tagged as a pretentious, know-it-all; an asshole, if you will.

    The implication is that no one could possibly prefer Bellow to King, Shakespeare to Grisham.

    Och! I’m late for work. I have much more to say as I am sure you do. I apologize – this has been rushed and more than a little incoherent. But I think I will quit here. Thanks for the debate. This would have been better over a bottle of Laphroaig (oh, damn! There’s that pretentious stuff again.)

  9. Actually “Lucky Jack” would not respond with”Never in life” instead it would be Dr. Maturin in one of his Barry Fitzgerald moments.

  10. As an afterthought, King at his best is a better writer than Poe in my opinion.

  11. Ué?Harold Bloom?Não morreu ainda?Deve ser para logo…Dizem que ele é um Deus para os norte-americanos…eu nem me sujeito a escrever em inglês…se eu fosse para os E.U.A. (sou brasileiro)me tratariam como se eu fosse um macaco…sem querer insultar os macacos…ué…não conseguiu ler?Foda-se!Pau no seu c*!!!

  12. Eu estava a procurar em livros de consagrados escritores do passado algo a respeito de sufrágio universal,economia e tratados internacionais,mas eu não encontrei nada relevante…será que alguém poderia mencionar algum livro em especial?Aí então eu estaria orgulhoso (junto com vovô Bloom)de saber se eu quero um REPUBLICANO ou um DEMOCRATA!!!

  13. Ué,o que foi “o melhor já pensado e escrito”? Nietzsche(sobretudo)…Heidegger,Goethe,Jung e Schopenhauer…talvez Dostoiévski,Colin Wilson,Gershon Scholem, Hegel…até Bloom eu já li…o crítico de Literatura que adora o crítico de Literatura Samuel Johnson…aquele que uma vez disse “apenas um imbecil não escreveria por dinheiro”…será este teu segredo,vovô Bloom?Ah,os norte-americanos….

  14. Did you have to use ‘smugly pejorative’ when ‘yucky’ would have done just fine?

  15. Dia ruim,a melhor coisa que fiz hoje foi jogar baralho com um velhinho em seu casebre.Até…após deixar a casa dele,dirigindo o carro de meu pai,o surto voltou – não que eu soubesse que fosse irrealidade – e todas as pessoas as quais eu odeio, as pessoas que estão sempre presentes na minha mente em alucinações auditivas e visuais começaram a sua guerra relâmpago.Mas uma vez perdi a cabeça e dirigi com a mão esquerda no volante e a direita socando o banco de passageiro.Senti-me miserável,não só com essa coisa degradante que é tal agressividade mas também com a humilhação das supostas pessoas que surgem do nada para gracejarem e castigarem.
    Fui à casa de uma recém-conhecida e contei a ela como vivo,assumindo-me um esquizofrênico,e me senti pequeno por isso,era como se eu estivesse a mentir e reclamar de meu sofrimento como uma maneira de pedir misericórdia a todos aqueles que estão sempre a me ouvir e observar onde quer que eu vá. “Foi um sofrimento terrível,eu tenho um trauma,um distúrbio bipolar ou qualquer coisa assim,”eu disse a ela”por causa das minhas sete internações à força em uma clínica de Garça,somando são dois anos e quatro meses.Você é sequestrado dentro de casa,amarrado,não vê sua família.Depois,lá,você acorda quando abrem a porta de seu quarto conjunto e trilam um apito horrível,e são cinco minutos para você arrumar rapidamente a sua cama,escovar os dentes e ir ao pátio para entrar na fila dos psicotrópicos.Não basta você estar com sono e os comprimidos fazerem um efeito acumulativo,você senta no banco concretado junto à parede e não há permissão para apoiar a cabeça no cotovelo e este no banco;te chamam a atenção em voz alta,andando na sua direção.Depois de ter conseguido por um pedido aos meus pais dispensa da Educação Física ,Religiosidade e outras atividades,passei cerca de três meses,dia após dia,falando com meus pais,que absolutamente não estavam ali.Mais ou menos assim :
    “Umberto,nós estamos saindo de Araraquara e devemos estar chegando em Garça em torno das oito e meia da noite”.
    “Como assim,pai,é sério?Este lugar é horrível”
    E eu falando sozinho o tempo todo,então,às oito e quarenta -
    “Pai,por que vocês estão atrasando?”
    “Não se preocupe,é que pegamos muito trânsito na estrada,daqui a pouco estamos aí”
    Até que,às 22 horas,trilava o apito para que os internos se recolhessem as suas alas.A mesma coisa no dia seguinte – “Umberto,não contrarie a sua mãe,se é que estou dizendo que estaremos aí às oito horas é porque estaremos mesmo e te amo muito”.Difícil refutar um argumento desses,ainda mais com uma voz constante.
    Imagine oitenta dias assim,com a decepção no final.Ou “furou um pneu do carro” ou ainda “porque o dono da clínica não quer deixar você sair,nós estamos na delegacia,ele está agressivo”.Eu experimentei agonia ali,era como se estivesse prestes a morrer,cheguei até a ver um tridente no chão,a psicose foi medonha.Às vezes eu voltava o olhar para a porta sempre fechada que dava do pátio para uma sala e,desta para a rua;eu tinha uma impressão de haver alguém ali com uma arma de fogo ali acima desta porta,no telhado.Também me senti no deserto,não sei explicar direito.Certa vez me vi sozinho em um corredor e vi uma planta venenosa,me dirigi rapidamente a ela mas foi um absurdo,a planta era uma imitação em plástico.Tinha medo de televisão.
    A impossibilidade de cometer suicídio e o tipo de trato ao qual eu estava sujeito…por ser um viciado em crack e cocaína”
    Depois que disse essas minhas palavras à minha amiga e fui embora,estranhamente me senti melhor,dirigindo,e encontrei um amigo “chapado”de crack e álcool,ele pediu que o levasse para a casa abandonada onde ele mora atualmente.No trajeto,ele disse ter conversado com o Alexandre,um amigo em comum,algumas horas antes,em um bar.Fiquei muito contente com isso,foi como uma equação que me provou que não havia tantos horrores e tanta gente ruim no mundo,porque,só,no meu quarto ,eu conversava com o Alexandre que estaria em Dubai e me dizia “a mesma vidinha de sempre, Umberto?”.Quero dizer,tratava-se de uma esquizofrenia mesmo.
    Fiquei um pouco chateado com tantos insultos a Harold Bloom,também já havia enviado um e-mail a um professor da USP dizendo para ele marcar dia,hora e local para nos encontrarmos e resolvermos nossos (inexistentes) problemas no braço etc etc etc
    Eu sou um alucinado desde a hora que eu acordo até a de dormir,mas estou otimista.Quanto a uma possível contaminação por HIV…ora,existe o coquetel que prolonga a vida.Suponho que eu esteja mentalmente estabilizando,bem perto disso,e talvez eu preste vestibular para Filosofia no final deste ano.Senti-me bastante sem graça por insultar tanto as pessoas.Estou também lançando um livrinho chamado “Monólogo da Insanidade”com mais de quarenta poemas razoáveis…e outros textos.

  16. Aí também não entendi,passei quarenta minutos enviando um e-mail educado e sincero e vocês não colocam na rede?Vão me desculpar.

  17. hm… good one ))

  18. I assume that Bloom appreciates the irony of his situation: he owes his celebrity, and a great deal of his presumably substantial wealth, to the very decline he decries. If everyone were on a diet of Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, et al., there would be no market for the hundreds of thousands of words Bloom has written explaining how great they are and why we should be reading them all the time and how we are doomed because we aren’t reading them any more. He was a successful critic long before that, but there’s no question that he has become a superstar and a very rich man precisely because of the advent of the cultural phenomenon he bemoans.

  19. Haha! So true.

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