Thursday, May 27, 2010

Harold Bloom can suck it

While reading a list of the 50 best author on author insults (found linked on Bookshelves of Doom)I came across this gem from Harold Bloom on J.K. Rowling:

How to read 'Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone'? Why, very quickly, to begin with, and perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.

Frankly, I think Harold Bloom has an overinflated opinion of himself (as most professional critics do), and is an incurable snob. And that's really all I have to say on the subject.


amnbsdad said...

Bravo! Rip 'em a new one.

Mockingbird said...

Bloom has some good stuff - I really like his collection of "Stories and Poems for Extremely Intelligent Children of All Ages" - but yeah, the guy has a way inflated sense of "this is important and this is trash and anyone who disagrees with my learned opinion is a knuckle-dragging idiot." In MY opinion!

Librarian Who said...

Bloom does have some good stuff, but I think his dominance of the high school, public and community college library literary criticism collections has gone to his head. And interestingly enough, he's the editor of most of those books, not the author of the criticism inside. (Yes, he does write his own, I know, I know.)

Perscors said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Perscors said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
M Walther said...

Absolutely absurd.

Rowling is a nineteenth-rate pseudo-novelist whose prose seems at best inadequate and at worst unreadable.

As Bloom says, one reads Rowling presumably because one cannot read anything better; for children, what is the value of Rowling's romances compared with the fantasies of Lewis Carroll or Kenneth Grahme? And for adults: it is a sign of the infantilization of American culture that anyone over the age of sixteen could busy herself reading Rowling, when one could, in the same number of pages, read, for instance, Jane Austen's entire output.

Librarian Who said...

Wow, such venom. You certainly put me in my place! I'm glad you have the time to actively search out blogs that express opinions that differ from yours on this subject and write overly aggressive and belittling comments. Bravo! Your condescending manner is sure to endear you to all who know you.
And for the record, I have read Austen, Carroll, and Grahame, as well as Dickens, Woolf, Charlotte Bronte, Tolkien, Lewis, Twain, Steinbeck, and many more highly respected authors and you know what? I still enjoy Harry Potter for what it is. And frankly, I think any books that turn children who weren't readers before into readers are good things.

M Walther said...

As Bloom acknowledges:

'"Harry Potter" will not lead our children on to Kipling's "Just So Stories" or his "Jungle Book." It will not lead them to Thurber's "Thirteen Clocks" or Kenneth Grahame's "Wind in the Willows" or Lewis Carroll's "Alice." . . . When you read "Harry Potter" you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.'

In other words, the reading of mediocre children's books can only prepare beginning readers for mediocre adult fiction.

(And by the way: I discovered your blog, as you seem to know, by searching "Harold Bloom" in Google Blogs in search of any news about his recent illness.)

Perscors said...

I had a post here some time ago that was, perhaps justly, deleted (the first post I deleted myself for spelling errors), but this is an interesting subject I would like to debate if anyone is interested. Anyways, with a promise of comity in the agora, may I ask you, LW, what in particular draws you to Harry Potter? Maybe you could give a particularly striking or moving passage for example.

Harold Bloom, I am sure, would not argue that one must only spend one's time reading the classics. His point is that one shouldn't conflate the works of Dickens or Austen with Rowling or King ect. That there is a vast divide between the two. But again, I would love to take time to debate this :)

M Walther said...

"Harold Bloom, I am sure, would not argue that one must only spend one's time reading the classics. His point is that one shouldn't conflate the works of Dickens or Austen with Rowling or King ect. That there is a vast divide between the two."


Simply not true.

Bloom has written on numerous occasions that the work of authors such as Rowling and King, which he places under the label "period pieces," possesses no value and is not worth reading.

From an interview in the Atlantic with Jennie Rothenberg Gritz:

"But of course, the Harry Potter series is rubbish. Like all rubbish, it will eventually be rubbed down. Time will obliterate it. What can one say?"

Bloom on King:

"What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis."

Perscors said...

Okay MW, I agree with you, in the long haul yes, they are rubbish, they'll be rubbed away and forgotten, they lack metaphor and so any depth whatsover. My point is that Bloom isn't saying one must only read classics and not period pieces (He read them after all!) but rather he was concerned with distinguishing Potter from works of lasting value.

I think this is where the confusion is MW, I don't want to nit pick here but I've read all Bloom's books and scores of interviews with him (all I've been able to find) but even that is not necessary--no one should spend every waking moment with high art, as Bloom said of himself, sometimes one's mind must lay fallow. (Don't remember where this was exactly, could look it up if you wish.) Philip Roth states it more clearly (in another interview I could again look up if you wish) when he says that we all engage ourselves with so called populist art ect but the problem with today is that this kind of art totally overwhelms everything else. People can no longer distinguish quality in a book. I am quite sure Bloom would agree with Roth here. I mean I've heard Bloom talk about in interviews how he reads cereal box cartons ect, how he will read anything (not hard for him to do considering he at one time could read 1000 pages an hour.) Its silly and foolish to say Thou shalt not read Potter. I think the point is to think about why certain works last and why others fade away, to look more critically at books. In this age of multi-tasking we have simply lost the ability for close analysis and deep reading, and I think that surely is what Bloom deplores.

Perscors said...

Just to be even clearer--the problem isn't that we occasionally engage in mindless escapism, I'm sure that has been the norm throughout history. The problem is that this become the modus operandi, our raison d'etre--that that is all we do. That is the distinction I am trying to make here. Harry Potter is not much worse than anything else we might do in our free time. If you want to kick back and read an escapist novel, fine, who cares, just don't try to say its the next Bill Shakespeare.

M Walther said...

Perscors -

Since you've read all of Bloom, take a look at the introduction to The Western Canon again. Here he suggest that if for no other reason than because we are mortal (and so have a limited amount of time to read) we ought to limit ourselves to reading canonical works.

(By the way, your name suggests you've at least opened The Flight to Lucifer. . .)

Librarian Who said...

M Walther-thank you for proving my point that Bloom is, in fact, a snob. That was the point of my original post. Life is short, and therefore people should read what they enjoy, not simply the books that an arbitrary group of mostly men have deemed to be "canon." What was once popular culture in the past, like Dickens, is now considered classic. Just because something is popular does not make it bad.
I think that if someone grows up to be a reader, regardless of what they choose to read, then that is something to be applauded. Yes, even if it is V.C. Andrews. Harold Bloom is not omnipotent and has no way of knowing what a child or an adult will read after he or she reads Harry Potter. Furthermore, it is not the job of a an author or a book to "lead children" to their next book. It is to engage them in the act of reading. It is up to the people involved in children's lives to help them explore the wide range of literature that is available to them, whether that is an older sibling, parent, teacher, or librarian.
Perscors-I appreciate that you wish to engage in an intellectual discussion on the merits and demerits of the Harry Potter series. At some point in time I may write a post that details why I enjoy the series. I did, in fact, delete your original post because it came across as antagonistic and I was unsure how to respond without responding in kind. I regretted it almost immediately. But wait, did I not respond in an antagonistic manner to M Walther? Yes, yes I did, because I felt that he was condescending and insulting me personally.
It seems that the two of you have found common debating ground. Kindly take your discussion to a different forum.

Perscors said...

Will do Librarian Who, and thank you for the kind response. I honestly almost never open conversations in a critical manner, one's blog is like one's home yes, and why should I shake off my mental mud onto your carpet. I of course like Bloom so I jumped in rather defensively although I don't have to reach very far to find reasons why others would not like him. My reasons for liking him are largely autobiographical and I won't get into that here. Anyways, its been fun!

Librarian Who said...

No problem Perscors, and I appreciate your civility too. In hindsight, I should have entitled this particular post something less confrontational, but what's done is done.
It's doubtful that I will write anything else that you might feel compelled to comment on, but please feel free to do so. We may not agree, but I think we can disagree in a thought provoking yet still pleasant manner.

Príncipe de León said...

As a writer, I can recognize the achievment of Rowling in the creation of Snape, and maybe Dumbledore. But you have to read seven unnecessary large books to get to it. I enjoyed them, but she could do better. I hope she will