The latest from the venerable Bloom (Hamlet: Poem Unlimited, 2003, etc.) may not always be easy going, but it’s invariably rewarding and rich.
There are “only three criteria,” says Bloom, that determine the books he’ll continue “reading and teaching”: “aesthetic splendor, intellectual power, wisdom.” But this isn’t wisdom you can put in your pocket and take home. Not only will this kind not make you feel better—“I have not found that wisdom literature is a comfort”—but you may not even be able to figure out what it is: “The Book of Job offers wisdom, but it is not anything we can comprehend.” Still, it’s there, in its own power, significance, and insistence (wisdom writing “must be rich”). This literature “teaches us to accept natural limits,” Bloom says at one moment, then reverses, saying that “Job could not console Herman Melville and his Captain Ahab, but provoked them to furious response.” Perfect consistency is too small a concept for this kind of wisdom, as Bloom argues that the drama form was too small for Hamlet. In any case, with the unflagging curiosity and the associative powers of one who seems to have read all books written, Bloom takes us through studies in pairings, of Job paired with Ecclesiastes, Plato with Homer (the battle between philosophy and poetry), Cervantes, and Shakespeare. Declaring that “Thoughts are events,” he gives us Montaigne and Bacon, Johnson and Goethe, Emerson and Nietzsche, and at last Freud and Proust, in a pairing as fascinating as any here. In closing, he touches on the Gospel of Thomas and on Augustine’s “invention” of reading, adding that “Reading alone will not save us or make us wise, but without it we will lapse into the death-in-life of the dumbing-down in which America now leads the world, as in all other matters.”
Another work of uncompromised literary analysis, thought, and feeling, from the mind of Bloom: towering, real, invaluable.