A CRITIQUE OF THE WESTERN CANON
Postgraduate School of Critical Theory, University of Nottingham
Este artigo discute The Western Canon de Harold Bloom, mostrando como o autor fornece um relato enganador e inadequado da literatura ocidental. Mostra, também, que Bloom ao descartar qualquer componente que se estabeleça além do status estético, não percebe que o valor estético é um fenômeno que não pode transcender a história e a sociedade.
This paper discusses Harold Blooms The Western Canon. It shows that Bloom offers a misleading and inadequate account of western literature. It also shows that Bloom rejects any component that resides beyond aesthetic status, failing, thus, to consider that aesthetic value is a phenomenon that cannot reside beyond history and society.
Published in the USA in 1994 and in Britain in 1995, Harold Bloom's The Western Canon was widely and favourably reviewed in the daily broadsheet and literary periodical press in both countries. Those who find themselves profoundly and fundamentally in disagreement with the assumptions and conclusions of Bloom's book, like myself, may be tempted simply to ignore its popular acclaim. The plaudits it has received from the non-academic press may be all it deserves, and Bloom in any case claims not to be addressing a scholarly audience:This book is not directed to academics because only a small remnant of them still read for the love of reading. What Johnson and Woolf after him called the Common Reader still exists and possibly goes on welcoming suggestions of what might be read."
What follows suggests that a scholarly refusal to engage with Bloom is an unwise and inadequate response. My reasons for so thinking I shall, briefly, enumerate.
The Western Canon offers a tempting compendium, in one volume, of critical comment on everything in Western literature that Bloom considers worth reading. He even devotes forty pages at the end of the book to providing lists, chronologically arranged, of books and texts he considers to make up the Western canon. He claims not to be presenting what he calls a "lifetime reading plan" (WC 517), but it is hard to see how else we might view the book, which counsels the avoidance of non-canonical works on the grounds that canonical works are now super-abundant. Moreover, one kind of "common reader" who might find the "reading plan" especially tempting is the non-western reader who, interested to know what he or she should read to have a knowledge of western literary culture, might turn to The Western Canon and use it as an authoritative guide book to help them in their studies. What I have to say will suggest that such a reader would be misguided rather than guided by Bloom in that he offers a very misleading, tendentious and ultimately intellectually inadequate account of western literature. The compendious nature of his one-volume survey only makes that argument a necessary one.
Another reason why it is important to come to terms with Bloom is that he has an enormous reputation as a literary critic and an appreciable reputation as a literary theorist. The book upon which most of his fame depends is a rather slim volume entitled The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, published in 1973, at a time when literary theory was relatively unfashionable. Indeed, Bloom begins the book by saying that it should be seen as corrective. One of his stated aims "is to try to provide a poetics that will foster a more adequate practical criticism". In other words, he considers the "practical criticism" or "close reading" of poetry insufficiently theorised: the book is "theoretical" rather than "practical", but only in order for the "practical" criticism of texts to be enhanced. Thus Bloom is a defender of "practical criticism", not its opponent, and, even in 1973, was attacking the school of European literary theorists whose work has since come to epitomise the term "theory". Here is what he says in the introduction to The Anxiety of Influence:
I am made aware of the mind's effort to overcome the impasse of Formalist criticism, the barren moralizing that Archetypal criticism has come to be, and the anti-humanistic plain dreariness of all those developments in European criticism that have yet to demonstrate that they can aid in reading any one poem by any poet whatsoever. (AI 12-13).
We can see from The Western Canon that Bloom's position has not really changed in the following two decades. Whatever else one wants to say about Bloom, one can hardly claim that has shifted with the intellectual tides that have been circulating in that time. Consistency may or may not be a virtue, but Bloom has it plentiful supply. If there is an essential difference between the theoretical presuppositions deployed in The Anxiety of Influence and The Western Canon it is simply that in the later book Bloom expends many more words attacking "theoretical" criticism because it is, evidently, now in the ascendant. His own self-declared position as a "theorist" thus requires strict qualification: The Anxiety of Influence could hardly be seen as a reputable theoretical work (in terms of European theory). In 1973, however, there was very little that was "theoretical" (in the simple sense of being a reflection on practice) in anglo-american literary criticism, and The Anxiety of Influence thus seemed a radical new departure. On that basis Bloom's reputation was made, and he has since become that infrequent phenomenon, the mass market literary critic. His subsequent books, whatever their quality, have all been widely reviewed, and they sell very well. One indication of Bloom's larger-than-normal audience is the price at which publishers market his books. The British paperback edition of The Western Canon currently sells at £10. Academic texts of 600 pages routinely sell for multiples of that sum. The presence of the book in international airport bookshops and popular book club catalogues itself bespeaks its larger-than-usual print run. If I may be permitted a supplementary anecdote of a rather Bloomian kind, I discovered 17 hardback copies of his most recent book, Shakespeare: the Invention of the Human, in a major bookshop in Amsterdam. I could not find any other book in the same store in such plentiful supply. People who do not normally buy literary criticism are buying Harold Bloom.
Let me dwell briefly on The Anxiety of Influence. I don't wish to argue today with what Bloom has to say in that book, although I find much of it eccentric and questionable. However, because he uses its theory of poetic influence throughout The Western Canon , I think it may be worthwhile concisely to summarise that theory. So, briefly, Bloom tells us that "Poetic history ... is held to be indistinguishable from poetic influence, since strong poets make that history by misreading one another, so as to clear imaginative space for themselves" (AI 5). Let me emphasise the word that may seem strange in that quotation: "strong poets ... misreading one another". For example, Bloom argues that Milton (or, rather, Milton's texts) consciously or unconsciously, misread Shakespeare, and that this misreading (his favoured word word is misprision) is constitutive of their greatness. Great poets labour under the influence of other great poets before them, and in order to write for themselves, or as themselves, they must somehow reject the earlier poet, get free of the anxiety of being influenced by him, fight clear of his shadow. They do this by writing great poems that the earlier poet could not possibly have written. Bloom states that this theory is, by and large, Freud's theory of family dynamics transferred onto the literary tradition, in which great poets bear the same relation to one another as father to son, so that the younger poet (the son) asserts his individuality by rejecting, or establishing his difference from, the older (the father). I point out this acknowledgment to Freud because, in The Western Canon , Bloom is keen to temper his earlier enthusiasm for Freud's psychological theories. He quotes with approval the critic Peter de Bolla, as saying that "the Freudian family romance as a description of influence represents an extremely weak reading [of Bloom]" (WC 8), although, oddly, Bloom himself later refers to the "strangely intimate family romance of great writers" (WC 526).
So much for The Anxiety of Influence. It will become clear as I continue how much that theory is still being used in The Western Canon. But let me turn now to the latter book, which lays down a number of challenges to what Bloom calls "the School of Resentment", a term he uses polemically to describe academics who resent the aesthetic and are, increasingly successfully, involved in projects which attempt to subordinate the aesthetic to something else - history, politics, economics, race, gender - in the name of something like "Cultural Studies". Towards the end of the book Bloom even specifies the six branches of the School of Resentment: "Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists, Semioticians" (WC 527). In my own experience one or more of these labels can usually be attached to many of the persons who read journals such as this one these days, although, with any luck, they usually include more aesthetically inclined Bloomians than Bloom supposes, and some Feminists, Marxists, Lacanians, New Historicists, Deconstructionists and/or Semioticians might, paradoxically, be as concerned as Bloom to uphold the autonomy (or at least relative autonomy) of the aesthetic.
I have already remarked on the fact that Bloom claims not to be addressing an academic audience but "the Common Reader". Yet his "common reader" is not so very common. He tells us, "such a reader does not read for easy pleasure or to expiate social guilt, but to enlarge a solitary existence" (WC 518). In other words, Bloom's common reader is a fairly demanding reader. One might object, therefore, that such a reader could expect Bloom to be a little more scholarly than he is. There are no footnotes in The Western Canon. Nor is there a bibliography of secondary texts that Bloom has consulted for the purposes of his study. He does quote some critics, past and present, throughout the book, but apart from giving us the title of the book or essay he is quoting and, where appropriate, the name of the translator, he provides no bibliographic detail at all: no page numbers, no place of publication, no publisher, no note of which edition he has used. The same complaint might be made of his list of canonical works at the end of the book. Many of the texts he lists are the subject of considerable editorial controversy. For example, which edition of James Joyce's Ulysses has he read, or does he expect his common reader to read? Which translation of Franz Kafka's The Trial (there are at least three translations in English)? Indeed, how Bloom deals with translation throughout the book is something of a problem. It is not clear which books he has read only in translation and which he has read in the original language. He simply makes no reference to this and treats translated works as if they were linguistically unproblematic. He does tell us, in a headnote to his canonical list, "I suggest translations wherever I have derived particular pleasure and insight from those now readily available" (WC 531), but it is not clear if his recommendations are based on a comparison of available translations or not. The Western Canon shows a blatant disregard for the bibliographical conventions we associate with an intellectual work
What is perhaps more serious is Bloom's reliance on anecdote in his reasoning; that is, his use of undocumented evidence, information whose sources the reader is unable to verify.So fantastic has the academy become, that I have heard [the common] reader denounced by an eminent critic, who told me that reading without a constructive social purpose was unethical (WC 518).
This observation might have some force if it referred to a publicly declared position in the same or another critic's writing; as it is, it is hard to give Bloom's paraphrase of a private conversation much credibility. Two pages later he commits a more serious unscholarly act."Teachers now tell me," he says of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, "of many schools where the play can no longer be read through, since students find it beyond their attention spans. In two places reported to me, the making of cardboard shields and swords has replaced the reading and discussion of the play" (WC 520).
The problem with this is that it fails to consider the obvious likelihood that the play is being taught as a dramatic performance, and that the shields and swords are probably props for use in such a performance. Indeed, Shakespeare's texts as performative scripts is hardly ever the way Bloom conceives of them. When he does consider performance, however, he again relies on anecdote. Consider the anecdote he tells about Shakespeare's The Tempest:A friend, who teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and who was born in Bulgaria, told me about a performance of The Tempest, in Petrov's Bulgarian version, which she had recently attended in Sofia. It was played as farce, successfully she thought, but left the audience discontented because, she said, the Bulgars identify Shakespeare with the classical or canonical. Students and friends have described for me Shakespeare as they have seen him in Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Indonesian, and Italian, and the general report has been that the audiences were as one in finding that Shakespeare represented them upon the stage (WC 51)
. It's obvious that Bloom includes these observations to bolster his view that Shakespeare is the pinnacle of high seriousness and universal accessibility, but does he expect us to attach credibility to the suggested research method? What questions did Bloom ask his "students and friends" to elicit this report? Did these individual students undertake formal audience research? Without any information of this kind, how seriously are we meant to take Bloom's assertions?
We might also wish to consider why Bloom is so reluctant, in general, to argue or debate his positions, or why when he does he should use blatantly circular or tautologous arguments. Let us begin with the refusal to argue. Despite the fact that he thinks Alice Walker's novel Meridian worthless, he states that he is "not prepared to dispute admirers" of it (WC 30). Again, "I see no reason for arguing with anyone about literary preferences" (WC 518). Why not, since his entire book is about literary preferences? Perhaps because, as he says, "if you can't recognize [literature] when you read it, then no one can ever help you to know it or love it better" (WC 520). When Bloom appears to be arguing, the argument usually turns out to be circular or merely to dissolve into assertion. If we ask why Bloom believes that the aesthetic is autonomous from the social, all he has to say about this proposition is that "its best defence is the experience of reading King Lear and then seeing the play well performed" (WC 10). Thus an aesthetic text is held up as simple, straightforward evidence of how and why aesthetic texts are autonomous of social processes. Again, we are told that
aesthetic value can be recognized or experienced, but it cannot be conveyed to those who are incapable of grasping its sensations and perceptions. To quarrel on its behalf is always a blunder (WC 17).
Thus the assertion that argument is inappropriate is used to excuse Bloom's lack of argumentation about his dogmatically asserted opinion. He presumably feels that this also justifies contemptuous asides or jokes at the expense of other intellectual disciplines: Marxism is airily dismissed as "famously a cry of pain rather than a science" (WC 518); Freudian psychoanalysis is "another episode in the long history of shamanism" (WC 3); "cultural criticism is another dismal social science" (WC 17); Plato is reduced to moralism and Aristotle to social science (WC 18), as if these writers or the schools of thought they generated were so easily reduced to one concept or discipline. Consequently, why Freud, Plato and Aristotle are in Bloom's canon it is rather difficult to explain; Marx's absence is at least understandable. Bloom's egregious failure to conduct himself according to the established procedures of scholarly debate seems highly contradictory when one considers that he has already attacked one set of his opponents as an "academic-journalistic network" (WC 4). The refusal to follow scholarly procedures is precisely what most of us would term "journalistic".
Moving on to more substantive issues, I have to confess that I remain puzzled about Bloom's account of how a text becomes canonical. The book is an attempt to "isolate those qualities that made these authors canonical" (WC 1), which I find a very odd formulation indeed. As the book makes clear, it is texts, not authors, which are or can be canonical. If we assume this to be a slip of the pen, Bloom is presumably suggesting that canonicity is potentially immanent in a text, and so he talks of "texts struggling with one another for survival" (WC 20). So the canon consists of those texts whose inherent qualities (rather like the genetic qualities of certain species) assure their dominance. Perhaps Bloom's reluctance to identify the Darwinian source of the metaphor owes something to the obvious fact that the evolutionary parallel dissolves as soon as one acknowledges the social arenas in which texts struggle for survival. Bloom's view is that texts become canonical because "late-coming authors" (WC 20) confront their aesthetic strength and feel anxiety in the face of it; but the passive sentence structures in the next paragraph cannot conceal his recognition that other social agencies have a say in defining the canonical and that the category is historically variable: "in each era, some genres are regarded as more canonical than others" (WC 20). Regarded by whom, one wishes to ask. Bloom is prepared to admit that the debating chamber involves more than just authors: "aesthetic value emanates from the struggle between texts: in the reader, in language, in the classroom, in arguments within a society" (WC 38). But this admission that the canonical is socially constructed (and thus that the aesthetic is necessarily susceptible to some kind of sociological explanation) is not one that Bloom can maintain for long. By the end of the book he has returned to his initial entrenched position:The deepest truth about secular canon-formation is that it is performed by neither critics nor academies, let alone politicians. Writers, artists, composers themselves determine canons, by bridging between strong precursors and strong successors (WC 522).
One can multiply the instances at which such contradictions come to the fore in Bloom's text: "there is no socioeconomic process that has added John Ashbery and James Merrill, or Thomas Pynchon, to the vague, nonexistent, and yet still compelling notion of an American canon that yet may be" (WC 520); yet, "certainly the critics, Dr Johnson and Hazlitt, contributed to the canonization" of Milton (WC 28). Most puzzlingly of all, the qualities, assumed to be intrinsic, which Bloom finds in canonical texts - qualities which he does little more than name as "originality" and "strangeness" - are relativistic concepts which seem, to me at any rate, peculiarly unsuited to the absolutist enterprise which his own seems to be. Bloom claims to be undertaking what he calls "the quest that is the final aim of literary study, the search for a kind of value that transcends the particular prejudices and needs of societies at fixed points in time" (WC 62). Judgments about what is "original" and "strange" seem, to me at any rate, firmly implicated in temporally definite interests and needs. The very equation of the canonical with the original is in itself a fairly recent prejudice. Milton, one of Bloom's heroes, was perfectly happy with the notion that greatness could emerge from imitation: what he condemned was imitation without improvement.
One does not wish to go on simply enumerating contradictions of this kind, but it is, I think, worth noting that there are very similar problems with Bloom's conception of the purpose of reading. Bloom is not so stubborn as to suggest that something so evidently learned and socially regulated as reading is a matter merely of individual experience: he confesses that "reading, writing and teaching are necessarily social arts" (WC 36). But it seems to be the case that to read aesthetically (the alternative, presumably, is to read merely functionally) is to do no other than "augment one's own growing inner self", which is, by definition, an action which takes place outside of society altogether despite, paradoxically, the fact that it is mediated by that most social of phenomena, language. "The mind's dialogue with itself is not primarily a social reality. All that the Western Canon can bring one is the proper use of one's own solitude, that solitude whose final form is one's confrontation with one's own mortality" (WC 30). Rather like Bloom's notion of reading, I find it difficult to understand what model of "the self" Bloom is being proposed here. Bloom states, "I think that the self, in its quest to be free and solitary, ultimately reads with one aim only: to confront greatness" (WC 524). One needn't be a deconstructionist to point out that the freedom and solitude of the self are somewhat philosophically undermined if they are dependent on a continuous relationship with the canonical textual productions of other selves. To deny that reading in itself implies a nexus of social relationships begins to look like sheer perversity.
I cannot end without commenting on what Bloom has to say about Shakespeare, the centre of his canon, whose eminence is "the rock upon which the School of Resentment must at last founder" (WC 25). Bloom contends that he is not a Shakespeare scholar, and I should say that I am even less of a Shakespeare scholar than him. I am not the best person to respond to his account of the School of Resentment's dealings with Shakespeare, although I think I have read enough of the work to which he refers to recognise that his account is a travesty. It would not be difficult, in my view, in summarising, say, historicist work on Shakespeare by critics like Jonathan Dollimore, Alan Sinfield, Terence Hawkes or Gary Taylor, to show that such work is hardly in denial about the aesthetic status or value of Shakespeare's work. But they would, of course, disagree fundamentally with Bloom that aesthetic status or value are phenomena which reside beyond history and society. Let me abandon that line of argument, however, as it would clearly only lead us to the forked path where absolutists and relativists dogmatically divide. I would prefer, I think, to focus on the rhetorical function which Shakespeare performs in Bloom's discourse. If Shakespeare is the rock upon which Bloom's enemies must founder, he is also the rock upon which Bloom's canonical church is founded. His function is clearly fundamentalist or, if you like, Shakespeare is Bloom's fundament: it is in Shakespeare, to risk a pun, that we touch bottom. This is perhaps why Shakespeare's near anonymity (Bloom in his chapter on Shakespeare bizarrely writes of his "virtual colorlessness" and his "tactics of losing his selfhood in his work" [WC 55], as if these were actual personal attributes rather than an absence of biographical - that is to say historical - knowledge about him) is so significant to Bloom: it makes it all the more appropriate to his vision of him as the still centre of the canonical world, the first cause which, ultimately, ensures that there is order in an apparently chaotic universe. Shakespeare is unabashedly the God figure in Bloom's secular theology, on an alarmingly literal as well as metaphorical plane. Shakespeare is not only irreducible to anything else, but we are reducible to Shakespeare. He invented us. He also invented Freudian psychology and Marxist political economy, and presumably much else which came after him:
Here they [i.e. members of the School of Resentment] confront insurmountable difficulty in Shakespeare's most idiosyncratic strength: he is always ahead of you, conceptually and imagistically, whoever and whenever you are. He renders you anachronistic because he contains you; you cannot subsume him. You cannot illuminate him with a new doctrine, be it Marxism or Freudianism or Demanian lingusitic skepticism. Instead, he will illuminate the doctrine, not by prefiguration but by postfiguration as it were: all of Freud that matters most is there in Shakespeare already, with a persuasive critique of Freud besides. The Freudian map of the mind is Shakespeare's; Freud seems only to have prosified it. Or, to vary my point, a Shakespearian reading of Freud illuminates and overwhelms the text of Freud; a Freudian reading of Shakespeare reduces Shakespeare, or would if we could bear a reduction that crosses the line into absurdities of loss. Coriolanus is a far more powerful reading of Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon than any Marxist reading of Coriolanus could hope to be. (WC 25)
Bloom offers this kind of argument with absolute sincerity and literalness, arguing, for instance, that Shakespeare is the first writer to depict what he calls "self-change on the basis of self-overhearing" (he cites Falstaff and Hamlet as examples) and adding that "we all of us go around now talking to ourselves endlessly, overhearing what we say, then pondering and acting upon what we have learned ". Apparently, we do so because Falstaff and Hamlet taught us how to do so, whether we know this or not and, presumably, whether we have read Shakespeare or not (WC 48-9). I do not personally feel competent to comment on this fascinating historical thesis
I shall, however, in closing, draw attention to Bloom's comments about the figure named J, who is viewed (by some) as the first author of the Hebrew bible. Bloom argues that this author's texts (what we now know as the books of Genesis, Exodus and Numbers) were subject to revision and censorship by a number of later priests and scribes and that, specifically, what they erased was her (for Bloom believes the writer to be female, even perhaps to be Bathsheba, mother of Solomon) construction of God as all-too-human: mischievous, jealous, vindictive, unjust, neurotic and (as his murder of Moses before the walls of the Promised Land demonstrates) finally insane and dangerous. Bloom, in one of his frequently witty moments, points out that it is something of a shock "when we realize that the Western worship of God - by Jews, Christians, and Moslems - is the worship of a literary character, J's Yahweh, however adulterated by pious revisionists" (WC 6).
Now, in this connection I am interested in Bloom's rather odd lack of corresponding concern about the state of Shakespeare's texts and the confidence with which he is prepared to "read off" aspects of Shakespeare's personality from those fiercely debated texts: thus, on one page alone, we are told that the texts of Shakespeare demonstrate that the man was "disinterested", "almost as free of ideology as are his heroic wits: Hamlet Rosalind, Falstaff. He has no theology, no metaphysics, no ethics, and rather less political theory than is brought to him by his current critics" (WC 56). Bloom's worship of Shakespeare - I don't think worship is too strong a term - may have been arrived at by a procedure somewhat akin to that he claims has operated in the Western worship of God. In other words, Bloom seems to overlook any doubts that there may be about Shakespeare's texts in his keenness to construct a sublimated deity figure who can preside over the canon and operate as the ultimate guarantor of meaning and hierarchy in a world threatened with the extinction of both. It is true that he acknowledges once (and only once) the potential difficulties that the existence of competing texts of the same play can throw up. He confesses that
Shakespeare puzzles us in his apparent indifference to the posthumous destiny of King Lear: we have two rather different texts of the play, and pushing them together into the amalgam we generally read and see acted is not very satisfactory (WC 52).
Not very satisfactory, that is, for Bloom's conception of Shakespeare; and no sooner has he asked the question than he quickly disposes of it with a characteristic evasion:
How can there have been a writer for whom the final shape of King Lear was a careless or throwaway matter? Shakespeare is like the Arabian moon in Wallace Stevens that 'throws his stars around the floor,' as though the profusion of Shakespeare's gifts was so abundant that he could afford to be careless (WC 52).
I think we must have the confidence to identify such speculative apologetics as the arrant nonsense that they indubitably are. There is perhaps no hope of proving it, but I would dare to suggest that the existence of two competing versions of King Lear has nothing to do with the lofty carelessness of the play's author, and that only a more historically inclined critical procedure than Bloom's is likely to give us the enlightenment on this matter that we seek.
These matters notwithstanding, there are a host of issues which Bloom's book raises that should give critics who are historically or sociologically or theoretically inclined considerable pause. For example, the complacency with which literary study is assimilated to politics by many critics, and the tendency to arrogate texts to positions of cultural eminence on the basis of their political amenability is, I think, a very real problem in some quarters. Bloom can be blunt to the point of vulgarity about this:
if you believe that all value ascribed to poems or plays or novels and stories is only a mystification in the service of the ruling class, then why should you read at all rather than go forth to serve the desperate needs of the exploited classes? The idea that you benefit the insulted and injured by reading someone of their own origins rather than reading Shakespeare is one of the oddest illusions ever promoted by or in our schools (WC 522).
One could make a sophisticated answer to this kind of objection. Bloom is relying on a demonstrably fallacious distinction between interpreting and acting, between intellectual work and practical work. It's clear that intellectual work can and has changed the world. But I can't help thinking that Bloom has a point, and one could easily enlist as uncongenial a source as Marx's "Theses on Feuerbach" in support of his cause: "hitherto the philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point, however, it to change it". I read Marx's dictum not as devaluing intellectual work but asserting that intellectual work conducted without an accompanying praxis does not possess the degree of radicalism that it may claim for itself. And the evidence of one's senses tells one that many literary intellectuals, producing "radical" criticism, are doing little else that might be described as radical.
As just one other example, take the accusation Bloom makes about the universal lowering of standards. His argument is that, in the name of some democratic impulse, to enlarge "access", or promote "relevance", there has been a gradual devaluation, in literary disciplines more than others, he claims, of the cognitively difficult. Bloom describes this memorably: "the morality of scholarship, as currently practiced, is to encourage everyone to replace difficult pleasures by pleasures universally accessible precisely because they are easier" (WC 520). He points out that this simply hasn't happened in mathematics or the sciences, or even in the history of art or music. And again, ironically, he is able to enlist the support of an unlikely ally: "Trotsky urged his fellow Marxists to read Dante, but he would find no welcome in our current universities" (WC 520). I do think that what Bloom calls the School of Resentment needs to answer charges like these (let me be clear: I'm not saying they cannot be answered, simply that they need to be) but what I fear is that the all too polemical manner in which he issues such challenges, and the many confusions, contradictions and eccentricities of The Western Canon, are more likely to lead to a disparaging neglect of Bloom's complaints rather than an articulated rebuttal of them. Such neglect would simply leave the field clear for Bloom to promote unhindered his calculated simplicities.
Macdonald Daly is Director of Research of the Postgraduate School of Critical Theory, University of Nottingham.
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