Friday, June 17, 2005

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found, by Harold Bloom

Having survived a major recent illness ( I presume something to do with his heart), you wonder how Harold Bloom remains so prolific. Time goes by so quickly I was surprised to find another three Bloom books have been published since I read his last, Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (2002).

In the introduction Mr Bloom gives a wonderfully simple summing up of what he looks for in literature: aesthetic splendour, intellectual power and wisdom. I couldn’t agree more. It’s not something you hear said often, that the primary reason for reading should be aesthetic splendour ( a Greek word we are told, meaning ‘perception’.) Indeed, later in the book Bloom says he is after a ‘purely aesthetic experience at once freely hedonistic and cognitively strong.’

This is a short, nifty book, covering all the usual greats. If you’ve read far and wide, you’ll find a lot of familiar authors covered. A lot of literary criticism I read almost like gossip, idle yet engrossing chatter about what you like and enjoy and find fascinating about certain authors. Bloom here covers geniuses like Shakespeare, Freud, Plato, Montaigne, Proust, Samuel Johnson, the Christian writers and writers of the Hebrew Bible.

I loved this summing up of Western culture, with it’s fusion of Greek and Hebrew culture:

‘Our civilisation is still split between a Hellenic cognition and aesthetic and a Hebraic morality and religion. One might say that the hand of Western (indeed of much of Eastern also) civilisation has five ill-assorted fingers: Moses, Socrates, Jesus, Shakespeare, Freud.’

The following was also heartening to read:

‘These days, in the United States, the followers of the erotic Plato are joined in dubious battle with American religionists, led by the twice born George W. Bush. The issue of gay marriage will not go away, nor should it. The Hebrew Bible and the Platonic dialogues refuse reconciliation, because Yahweh and Plato’s God cannot share dominion.’

Well, that was very nicely put!

For me, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book, one that makes you want to immediately go back and re-read some of those classics. For those who love reading, Harold Bloom is someone you should make friends with immediately.

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