The air up there


It would be a pretty safe bet that in all the English IV research papers I’ve graded in my career roughly half of the citations – quoted, paraphrased, or brazenly plagiarized – came from a literary scholar named Harold Bloom.

In addition to his teaching duties at Yale, NYU and Harvard, Dr. Bloom has in more than twenty five books and countless academic journals delved into, analyzed and picked apart every major writer from the Apostle Paul on. He leaves no stone unturned, no possible symbol or metaphor undissected, whether the author intended them or not.

The professor and I had a falling out some years ago, though he certainly didn’t know it since he doesn’t know me from Adam.  When Stephen King was inducted into the American Institute of Letters, the society of the crème de la crème of this country’s authors, Bloom wrote a scathing dissent that was widely published, maintaining that the author of novels of no real literary merit aimed only at general readers had no place in such lofty company.

I happen to think Mr. King is a gifted story teller and wordsmith – not to mention an enormously popular and prolific one, having written over fifty best sellers.

I also believe that Professor Bloom, on that one occasion, was a snob.

In fact, Bloom’s elitist attitude regarding great writing and the requisite intelligence of its readers has always rubbed me the wrong way.  Critical analysis certainly has its place, but literature shouldn’t, at least as I see it, be always mined for great and essential truths. It should be read, and hopefully enjoyed.  What Bloom seems to want to do is set the great writers and their works on so tall a pedestal that most of us can only gaze up there and wonder what all the fuss is about.

This is especially true in a fat book that Bloom wrote some years ago.  It’s titled Genius and it is not, as I first suspected, about its author. In that hefty tome he lists who he considers to be the 100 most exemplary creative writers in all of  history, in order, and goes into considerable detail about what those famous authors actually meant in their novels, plays and verse. All I could think as I flipped through one lecture after another was that surely all those men and women must have suspected their readers could sort such business out for themselves, without a guide to do it for them.

I was no more surprised that Shakespeare came at the top of the list than I was that Stephen King wasn’t on it at all.  Bloom and I are is as complete agreement about the Bard of Stratford and his place in literature as we are in disagreement about the Horror Master of Maine and his.

Harold Bloom seems to have so thoroughly safeguarded his sacred catalogue of geniuses that I couldn’t download it from the internet to share with you.  But it’s worth a look, and a used copy of the book is currently available from amazon for one cent plus postage.

I have to wonder if Stephen King hasn’t sent off for his copy of Genius with a note to the author that goes something like “a penny for your thoughts, Professor.”


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