Monday, February 06, 2006

The Wisdom Went Missing

At last I have finished reading Harold Bloom's Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? After this you will not have to read anymore bellyaching posts about Bloom for a long while. No guarantees on never again though. Laying aside Bloom's self-importance, I had a hard time with the book because it was never really clear what Bloom's thesis was until the very last paragraph on the very last page when he says

Truth, according to the poet William Butler Yeats, could be not be known but could be embodied. Of wisdom, I personally would affirm the reverse: We cannot embody it, yet we can be taught how to know wisdom, whether or not it can be identified with the Truth that might make us free.
I'm not sure what the "Truth that might make us free" is, but the book appears to be an attempt at teaching how to recognize wisdom. Only problem is there was no teaching going on, it was all telling and nowhere throughout the history of literature could Bloom find one single woman to include as a wisdom writer. I'm going to blame it on the influence of Johnson and Freud, both favorites of Bloom's. Neither much liked women. Among Johnson's more pithy female put downs: "Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all." And Freud spent his whole life wondering what women wanted and decided it must be a penis because, after all, who wouldn't want one? And in Bloom's discussion of his pairing of Freud and Proust, he declares that both writers believe that biology is destiny. Since he spent the whole chapter talking about sexual repression and sexual jealousy, I was left to conclude that Bloom also believes biology is destiny. And as for Johnson, in his chapter on him and Goethe, Bloom admits right off that he has loved and tried to imitate Johnson since adolescence. More than anything else, however, the book seems like the rantings of a resentful old man who is looking in the face of his own mortality. Otherwise why write things like this:
A sensitive reader in the early twenty-first century is probably going to prefer the aphoristic wisdom of Blake or Nietzsche to Johnson's Ecclesiastes-like sense of the vanity of human wishes. And yet Johnson is a greater teacher, particularly at a time when the "common reader," whom he exalted, is beginning to vanish, and when the mediaversity barely teaches most students to read better books, or to read them more closely.
Or this:
Goethe is one of the best antidotes I know for our current ideologies of Resentment, which have now pretty well destroyed aesthetic education in the English-speaking world.
And finally, this:
Aside from his vast contributions to theology, Augustine invented reading as we have known it for sixteen centuries. I am not unique in my elegiac sadness at watching reading die, in the era that celebrates Stephen King and J.K. Rowling rather than Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll.
For Bloom, the only good author is a dead canonical author. I chose to read Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? because of the chapter in which Bloom discusses Montaigne. I was disappointed by that chapter; it said nothing new or interesting about Montaigne. But then, there was nothing new or interesting in the entire book either. I'll gladly be returning it to the library tomorrow.