Regarding Bloom

He leaked humanity

Mary Ellen Bartley, Dark Book. 2017, photograph of Xerox copy. 26 × 20". Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York.

The man was not as he was portrayed. Nor as he portrayed himself. The person seated, almost propped, at the head of the seminar table, shirt unbuttoned three or even four down to allow his hand to massage his weakened heart“my doctor urges this exercise”often absentmindedly while listening to students speak, a roll of flesh exposing itself, making it impossible not to think “I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs,” a line from the poet and critic whose influence Bloom’s early career had been almost single-mindedly aimed against, and whose often pompous pronouncements he ended up imitating; the person arriving always early to the class and seated in the dark, “I am tired today, my dears,” that was not the man. The airs, the extravagances, the affectations, also not the man.

It was around the time that he was writing Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human. This was a modern American poetry seminar, but he was steeped in Falstaff, “the god of my imaginings,” he called him, auditioning for the character, clowning with pathos, a last hurrah of sorts, the doctors weren’t giving him long, he said. It was then 1998.

Like other teachers and sages I’d known and apprenticed myself to for seasons of my life, Bloom performed, but what he didn’t perform was pedagogy or teaching, not for himself and not for us. He just did readings, in the Bloom way, which was an ongoing drama, in words, between the work at hand and the absent works, lines and phrases that the work had brought itself into being from. This wasn’t the same as watered-down “intertextuality” or “influence studies” or, god forbid, some kind of seminar or salon-like conversation. It wasn’t “New Critical” thing-in-itself close reading, because poems weren’t things in themselves, they were living subjects, and as full of contradictions and private dramas and unconscious desires and hauntings as any other. While some critics thought about the “political unconscious” and others of just the human unconscious, Bloom found a way to surface the poetic unconscious.

More from Issue 36

Issue 36 Get Help

How long until we become indentured servants living low-emission lives for the world-traveling ruling class?

Issue 36 Get Help
White Square
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help
The Custom of the Capitol
Issue 36 Get Help

Uncertainty is not ignorance.

Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help
An American Education
Issue 36 Get Help

The breathing is getting weaker, a faint echo of its now extinguished life force.

Issue 36 Get Help
We Had a Shakespeare
Issue 36 Get Help
Issue 36 Get Help

Today, rather than serving as a model for conservatives, the memory of El Salvador and the solidarity movement it generated may…

More by this Author

October 29, 2009

Having formulated this rule, Crain proceeds to circumvent it.

September 20, 2004

As usual, “the Billionaires” put it best, Americans like to think that they, too, will one day be rich.

Issue 29 Bottoms Up

Gone is the task of providing “equipment for living,” in the words of Kenneth Burke.

July 20, 2004

“We live in fictitious times,” Moore said at the Academy Awards. Despite the malapropism, we know what he means.

Issue 10 Self-Improvement

Jonathan Franzen’s novel is a feeling-machine.

October 31, 2005

They call us by the polite but uncanny name of “fellow travelers,” though no one is condescending.