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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Dead White Guy Talks About Literature

The lights flash. Swirls of blue surround the podium. Adoring fans snap photographs, bent over in admiration. Beneath the pulpit he stands, imbuing his wisdom on the crowd. No, he’s not a movie star. No, he’s not a rock star. He’s a literary critic, and his name is Harold Bloom.

He’s the best selling author of such books as How to Read and Why and The Western Canon. Bloom is widely read and revered by professors in literature classes all over America. No stranger to the classroom himself, Bloom has been a professor at Yale since 1955. His literature has incredibly fixed ideas about what is worthy of being read and why. On Monday, November 8 he appeared at the First Parish in Cambridge to promote his new book, Where Shall Wisdom Be Found, and an enraptured crowd listened in awe as he imparted his knowledge to the audience. I went just to hear what he had to say, despite the possibly of becoming angered, because I’ve read his work, and in the past I did not necessarily agree with his views.

The crowd that was there to herald the star was a mixed group, all ages and different types. Most of the crowd hung on his every word, entranced by his insight. Where Shall Wisdom Be Found is a collection of essays evaluating wisdom in different eras in literature, comparing two writers from each century. Bloom recalled that he wrote the book twice; once after the first time he wrote it, when he fell ill, and was “at the gates of death,” unsure if he liked the first version. Next, without looking at it, he wrote the entire book over.

When Bloom read, he wasn’t really reading word for word, and he informed the audience that he also digressed frequently while he was giving lectures. He said that there was more to say than what he had written, and he tended to ramble on and go off the subject a lot. He remarked that, “wisdom was knowing what to overlook.”

Bloom discussed the first chapter of the book concerning Cervantes and Shakespeare. He said that he “taught Shakespeare every week of his life,” and he never stopped marveling at his genius. Bloom said that it is unfathomable that Shakespeare wrote King Lear, MacBeth, and Antony and Cleopatra within fourteen months of each other.

The author made several comments about the election the previous week, and he said he could not believe the results. He quoted Emerson when he said that, ” ‘The admittance of Texas to the Union would be the downfall of the country.’ ” That remark got the biggest laugh of the night.

To many, Bloom’s ideas about literature are extremely severe. He thinks that the only people that should be read are the canonical “dead white men.” He seems to have forgotten that the purpose of literature is entertainment, and it does not always have to be intellectually uplifting to qualify as worthwhile.

Bloom, the world famous literary critic, looked very frail, and his hands shook frequently while he gave his lecture. He may be part of a dying breed of professors who only see the world of literature through the eyes of the days of the ancient masters. A new world has emerged, and some people such as him do not wish to acknowledge it is here. Even so, the fans flocked to see him, looking on in awe. It was a spectacle to just be there and witness a part of history.