Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Fun with Harold

Here are some quotes of interest from chapter two of Harold Bloom's book Where Shall Wisdom Be Found. Chapter two is ostensibly about the "contest" between Plato and Homer. Remember, Plato banned poets from his ideal republic and Bloom has this Freudian thing on writers needing to destroy their predecessors.

Perhaps Homer rendered Plato even more troubled, for even the most luminous exchanges in the dialogues cannot challenge the heroic pathos of the Iliad, which, with the Yahwist [aka "J"], Dante, Cervantes, and Shakespeare, continues to set the standard for high literature.
Plato cannot win on heroic pathos, nor can he out philosophize Shakespeare who wasn't even born until hundreds of years later:
Shakespeare, most capacious of intellects, could outflank any philosopher.
But wait, I thought this chapter was about Plato and Homer:
Plato carries what, to me, is a darker burden, for the more anguished quarrel is between poetry and theology, inaugurated by Plato's Socrates in the Republic, and still prevalent, except that the ideologies of Resentment have largely displaced theology. Thus, I have heard Emerson and Whitman denounced as "racists," and some years back, after teaching King Lear, I received an anonymous note informing me that every class I had ever conducted was "an act of violence against the women of Yale." Doubtless it is unfair to call such lemmings "Platonists," since probably they have never read the Republic or the Laws, but the legacy is clear enough.
Well, maybe not. I wonder how many times Bloom has grumped about that anonymous note? What makes me laugh most is the fact the he still has the note since he quotes directly from it instead of paraphrasing! Let's see if this next forwards any argument about Plato and Homer:
The supreme poets--Homer, Dante, Petrach, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Walt Whitman, Yeats--would none of them be acceptable to the Platonic Socrates. When we read Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, can we really believe that the supreme music is philosophy? That Plato, in aesthetic eminence, stands near to Homer and Dante reasonably could be argued, but he dwindles in proximity to Shakespeare, as all must do.
When exactly did Shakespeare obtain god status? Poor Plato doesn't have a chance:
According to [Friedrich] Solmenson, Plato began [in the Republic] by expurgating everything colorful and all-too-human in the Homeric gods. That destroys the Iliad and the Odyssey, or would, except that Homer--like Dante, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Chaucer--is indestructible, which was a lifelong frustration for the moralizing and finally totalitarian Plato, who in the Laws sets the prototype for Franco, Stalin, Mao. Since expurgating Homer did not work, Plato resorted to cosmological movement as a a grand machine, a theory of change to sweep away Homeric dominance of Greek education. A weird astrology ensued that remains of interest only to scholars, while students go on reading Homer (or would, if we still had universities, rather than mediaversities of multiculturalism).
Okay so Shakespeare is head god and Homer, Dante, Cervantes, etc are second-class gods. Meanwhile, Plato is godless and a totalitarian despot as are the multiculturalists who have invaded universities. Am I reading that right? Are you getting tired of this yet? Only a few more:
If your quest is for a wisdom within the bounds of reason, rather than of wonder, then go back to Plato and his progeny, down through David Hume to Wittenstein. Plato, I think, would have approved the reservations concerning Shakespeare expressed by Hume and by Wittgenstein. But even a long life is too short to receive everything Shakespeare is capable of giving you.
But what about Homer? I thought this chapter was about Plato and Homer? Oh wait, maybe...
I begin to believe that whether Homer was one poet, or two, or a whole phalanx of singers of tales, is pragmatically no more useful than our deranged obsessions which insist that Shakespeare was written by anyone except Shakespeare: the Earl of Oxford, Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Queen Elizabeth, Lucy Negro (London's leading East Indian sex worker), or the impostor named William Shakespeare who impersonated William Shakespeare. I delight in the London society that, each month, unsolicitedly sends me it circulars demonstrating that all of Lewis Carroll was composed by Queen Victoria. Recently, I mourned when reading the obituary of the founder of the American Flat Earth Society.
That's enough this time around. I have probably tried your patience. The next chapter is about Shakespeare. Oh and Cervantes too. And Shakespeare.