Daily Archives: November 20, 2011

Bloom’s “The Best Poems of the English Language”

Further to Christopher Batty’s earlier post, I do not want to seem to be coming to Bloom’s defense any time he is mentioned here, and I have been reluctant to comment, but…

In Bloom’s introduction to The Best Poems of the English Language, he states, “this vast book is intended for every kind of personal use” (his emphasis). He later on the same page says: “Essentially, this is the anthology I’ve always wanted to possess. It reflects sixty years of deep and passionate reading, going back to my love of William Blake, Hart Crane, and of William Shakespeare and John Milton, that vitalized my life from my twelfth year onward.” This book is very much about Bloom and he admits as much on the first page of his introduction.

This is not to say that his name alone doesn’t endow the book with a certain power, Bloom-as-canonizer or Bloom-as-Pontiff. But, a close reading of the Introduction and “The Art of Reading Poetry” (included in Best Poems and published separately) shows that Bloom is speaking as Bloom and for Bloom:

One of the few gains from aging, at least for a critic of poetry, is that taste matures even as knowledge increases. As a younger critic, I tended to give my heart to the poetry of the Romantic tradition, doubtless spurred to polemics on its behalf by the distortions it suffered at the hands of T. S. Eliot and his New Critical academic followers: R. P. Blackmur, Allen Tate, Cleanth Brooks, W. K. Wimsatt among them. In my early seventies, I remain profoundly attached to the sequence that goes from Spenser through Milton on to the High Romantics (Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats) and then on to the continuators in Tennyson, Browning, Whitman, Dickinson, Yeats, Stevens, Lawrence, Hart Crane. With Chaucer and Shakespeare, these remain the poets I love best, but maturation has brought an almost equal regard for the tradition of Wit: Donne, Ben Jonson, Marvell, Dryden, Pope, Byron, and such modern descendants as Auden and Eliot (a secret Romantic, however).

Bloom is speaking about Bloom and for Bloom — his ideas and preferences have changed over time. The exegetical work that follows is Bloomian to be certain, but what else could we expect?

Literary critics — all of us, I imagine — make value judgments about literature. We make these judgments when we decide what to teach and what not to teach. Having just returned from a conference on the popular romance novel and pedagogy, I am keenly aware of the fact that when we design a syllabus, we are, in a sense, canonizing authors/texts (at least within the context of our seminar rooms and lecture halls). Even in teaching miserable texts and calling them miserable texts, we are acknowledging that there is some value in studying the text (likely to show students what a bad text does that good texts don’t do). The solution, I suppose, is that we could discard all value judgments, but I’m all too certain that the subjectivity of the reader will come out, we will decide if we like a text or not, we will call it good or bad.

All readings are deeply personal, and that is precisely the point. I don’t think Bloom denies “blind spots,” actually it seems he recognized that he had them and has matured with age. We all have “blind spots,” and that is, as Michael notes, Frye’s point — and Frye certainly had blind spots as well. All literary critics do. Bloom is at his most polemical in The Western Canon but, I think, if we read it closely, Bloom’s argument is less with a canon and more with an argument against cant, against the School of Resentment, and so on. He is frustrated that the text has been lost to ideological theorizations of texts. Now, that is yet another value judgment and some of us may agree that we should discard theory altogether, and others will want more of Derrida, Butler, Spivak, Foucault, and so on.

The point of all of this, if there must be one, I suppose, is that the literary experience is deeply subjective. This deep subjectivity is perhaps what makes the institutionalization of literature so problematic. How do we position literature in the academy and still maintain the academy’s faith in literature as an area of study? If literature is deeply personal, deeply subjective, how then can it be studied in an institutional setting? What is the role of the institution in the study of literature?

UC Davis: Chancellor Linda Katehi’s Walk of Shame

One day after their peers were brutally pepper-sprayed by campus police, scores of UC Davis students formed a silent gauntlet that Chancellor Linda Katehi was required to pass through as she left a press conference Saturday night. The students said nothing to Katehi, and sat with arms linked, the same attitude of peaceful protest that had made their classmates the previous afternoon the targets of a cruelly heavy pointblank dose of pepper-spray by at least one riot-geared campus police officer who has since been identified. From the look on Katehi’s face, the silence was perhaps more unnerving than anything else she might have had to contend with that night. Anger she might have been able to understand; stony silence she evidently could not. The only sound that can be continuously heard throughout the video above is the click of her heels as she made her way through the silent crowd. This eerily peaceful display is in keeping with the disciplined restraint Occupy demonstrators everywhere maintain despite continuing incidents of police violence. This video may be the most remarkable instance of that unbreachable discipline recorded anywhere so far.

There have been demands for Katehi’s resignation. She has refused “at this time.” But she continues to conduct television interviews in which she excuses as best she can the assault on students that occurred under her authority.

BoingBoing has more details here.

Eye Witness Report from UC Davis

Report from RT on the UC Davis pepper spray incident

From an open letter to the university’s chancellor by UC Davis English professor Nathan Brown:

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-​sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-​sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-​five minutes after being pepper-​sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

Below is another report from AlJazeeraEnglish, which also reveals that the university has announced a probe into police conduct.


A detailed report from the New York Times here.

Retired Police Captain in Dress Blues Arrested by NYPD for His Support of OWS

Retired Police Captain Raymond Lewis was arrested at OWS on Thursday. As the video shows, he was in full dress uniform when cuffed and taken into custody by NYPD.

MSNBC interview with Captain Lewis on his reasons for joining the OWS protest here: “They weren’t doing this for themselves, they were doing this for all people who are suffering injustice. It just inspired me. I couldn’t do anything else but come on down.” In response to the video of police dowsing peaceful Occupy UC Davis demonstrators with pepper spray: “Corporate America is using police departments as hired thugs.”

Captain Lewis in an on-the-scene video interview before his arrest: “Corporate power has got to go. . . All the cops are workers for the one percent, and they don’t even realize it.”