Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 22, 2008

Harold Bloom: musings of a reactionary critic

Filed under: literature — louisproyect @ 3:17 pm

On multiculturalism… “You know, there are certain inescapable books that I really do feel all of us should read as early as possible. What does education mean if it does not expose children and young people to Shakespeare and Cervantes and Dante?…But unfortunately what is called ‘multiculturalism’ in the United States never means Cervantes. It doesn’t mean replacing a writer in English by Cervantes…It means fifth-rate work by people full of resentment, who happen to be women, or who happen to be Chicano or Puerto-Rican, or who happen to be African-American, and they are by no means the best writers who are African-American, or women, or so on. They are simply the most resentful and the most ideological. The function of an education is not to make people feel good about themselves, or to confirm their sense of division, of being in one group rather than another.”

Excerpted from “Harold Bloom Interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel” Queen’s Quarterly v102, #3 (Fall 1995) PAGES 609-19.

On victimization… “We have lost all our standards. We’re afraid to be called racist and sexist. I am not racist or a sexist…This myth of victimization produces African-American students who are under pressure to segregate themselves, peer pressures not to study, peer pressures not to read. I think the myth of victimization is more of a danger now to black and Hispanic students in the U.S., but of course I will be called racist for saying that. Surely it is a social tragedy that there is enormous pressure on the African-American not to mix and mingle with other groups. This is peer pressure not placed on Asian Americans. My best students are Asian Americans. These students will work and will brood about literature and will think about it at night and will take care to write very well. This (debate on the canon) is an intellectual and perhaps a spiritual matter. Authentic literature doesn’t divide us. It addresses itself to the solitary individual or consciousness.”

Excerpted from “Choice interviews: Harold Bloom interviewed by Terry Farish” Choice v32, #6 (Feb, 1995): PAGES 899 – 901.

On teaching “Blood Meridian“… I will probably teach Blood Meridian another half dozen times or so. In the rest of my career I don’t think I will come to the end of it. I would like one conversation with McCarthy, though I am sure he will always keep a good distance away from me. One would want something to help solve the mystery of why this astonishment was possible for him only that once. He is a great puzzle, I think, aesthetically, because Suttree was a marvelous book, though so close, at times, to Absalom, Absalom as to be almost embarrassing. It is true that there is a whole series of major American novelists who have only the one great book. There are very few who have more, like Henry James, or Faulkner, who had one great phase which lasted ten years, during which the five really top books were written. James is able to go on for thirty-five years and there are masterpieces at every point.

Excerpted from “Tragic Ecstasy: A Conversation with Harold Bloom about Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’ by Peter Josyph in Southwestern American Literature Vol. 26 No. 1 Fall 2000


  1. I can disagree with Bloom’s approach to the question without throwing out everything he’s saying. I think there’s a real problem when we’ve got a literary component in the public schools that is no longer interested in teaching quality literature from the African American canon, let alone the “classics” as he refers to them, and that’s what we’re looking at now.

    We’re seeing a generation of Black students who may know nothing about Richard Wright, or Ralph Ellison, or Jean Toomer, or Zora Hurston, because the “standard” curricula go with “begin with where students are at”, which is well and good, but never ratchets up from there. I’m not a snob. I’ll have my students read Donald Goines or Iceberg Slim if it gets them reading. But after that, I want them to look at what went before, to understand the significance of a Richard Haydn, a Mari Evans. I’ve no problem with them looking at what lyrical pulse can be found in the works of Tupac Shakur, but I want them to also be able to work through Ishmael Reed and Jayne Cortez. And what we’re looking at, in too many places, is what I call the “visceral” school of language arts skills, or having students write about what they feel, but never pushing them to move beyond their own experience and look at stuff that might be a little more challenging. So, to some degree, I understand Bloom’s concern, while not endorsing his Eurocentric perspective. At the end of the day, capital doesn’t really care whether urban students learn anything about themselves or their history or other cultures. And, living as we do in the postmodern age, teachers all too often encounter “standardized” curricula that begins and ends with pop culture of the last fifty years. I wish I were exaggerating, but this is often the case.

    Now on the flip side of this, there’s the reality that as districts have “downsized”, they’ve eliminated oc ed and electives and have built the day around test culture, which alienates a good many students, who, at this point anyway, aren’t interested in academics. Small wonder. When I was seventeen, I never was either. That came later. So it’s a complex problem. Bloom is badly mistaken in most instances, but it does not fall from there that because he’s wrong, the culti mulcheralist perspective, as Guermo Gomez Pena calls it, has been correct.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — February 23, 2008 @ 12:48 am

  2. I guess I could have found some other quotes from Bloom that would have served as better petards for him to hoist himself on. That being said, it is pretty clear that he is a reactionary. Plus one of the biggest fans of “Blood Meridian” and Cormac McCarthy on the planet. I keep thinking how a novel by McCarthy titled “Blud Meridian” would have gone over. Instead of writing about scalp hunters, he writes about the SS rounding up Jews and making ashtrays out of their skulls, all the while quoting Nietzsche. People have no reaction when it is Apaches except to see the stupid book as some kind of social criticism, when that is the last thing on McCarthy’s mind. I guess we accept Indians being used this way. That’s what you get from the steady diet of John Ford westerns.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 23, 2008 @ 1:20 am

  3. As a convinced reactionary, I would certainly not claim Harold Bloom as a champion. He’s a one-off, idiosyncratic and full of learned prejudices, many of them quite annoying, and most of them liberal–except that he doesn’t reject the classics.

    Comment by Grumpy Old Man — February 23, 2008 @ 2:03 am

  4. Harold Bloom was accused by Naomi Wolf of sexual misconduct a few years ago when she was a student in the 80’s. She made a big deal with the Yale admin. He was I believe her undergraduate advisor and she was applying for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

    Last I heard the Rhodes requires something like 8 letters of recommendation so it attracts the type of personalities who are adept at ass-kissing and political wrangling. So we end up with many more Bill Clinton or Wesley Clark types out the other end than say, Kris Krisopherson for example.

    Comment by m.c. — February 23, 2008 @ 7:28 pm

  5. No kidding.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — February 23, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

  6. Bloom’s comments are always insightful. Multiculturalism is about tolerance which may seem good a priori, but tolerance does not necessarily mean involvement. In fact, tolerance borders on indifference. McCarthy has the virtue of having approached another culture as the Other, which according to Levinas and Derrida means a respect for the difference, and a need for that other. Bloom’s comments show that he understands this and values it in McCarthy’s work. I further agree with Bloom that most “Ethnic” writers are fifth rate and profit on the guilt of the majority.

    Comment by pablo sosa — July 6, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

  7. The only people who would be afraid to be called racist or sexist, are…racists and sexists!

    Comment by Brandi — July 15, 2010 @ 6:30 am

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