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by Allan Bloom

Pub Date: June 22nd, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-67336-X
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Rambling prognostications on modern manners from the late Chicago curmudgeon whose previous salvos (Giants and Dwarfs, 1990; The Closing of the American Mind, 1987) left nearly every academic dean in the country reaching for his or her revolver. ``This book,'' begins Bloom, ``is an attempt to recover the power, the danger, and the beauty of eros under the tutelage of its proper teachers and knowers, the poets.'' So far, so good. Bloom looks out on the wreckage of modern social life—the lost marriage of his colleagues, the loveless couplings of his students, the thorough devaluation of domestic life and privacy—and states the obvious fact that something has gone seriously awry. We cannot love properly today, according to Bloom, because we have lost the proper words: The classical conception of love was essentially sacrificial and heroic, whereas the modern mind cannot envision human relations as anything other than as a contractual agreement. We are shown some examples of the Real Thing as it appeared in Shakespeare, Stendahl, Austen, Flaubert, and Tolstoy—and are given a close reading of Rousseau, whose notion of the Social Contract planted the seeds for much of our later troubles—but it's hard not to feel that Bloom's critique is short-circuited by his spleen, causing it to degenerate into a screed after the first hundred pages or so. His literary exegeses are provocative and subtle but not entirely germane (they carry the heavy odor of leftover notes that found a new life), and the real thesis of the book is hard to pin down. Bloom can set himself up very well (especially when his targets are so easy), but he fails to ask the question that his entire argument begs: Why did the classical view, for all its virtues, fail to sustain itself? That could have brought out the book that Bloom really wanted to write. Good in parts, but lacking a whole.