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January 16, 2010

"There's nothing to the man": Harold Bloom on James Wood


[Interviewer]: Oh, but hey, what about James Wood? I’m sort of kidding, of course.

[Bloom]: Oh, don’t even mention him. He doesn’t exist. He just does not exist at all.

I thought his last book was fun to read because he gets so enthusiastic about things, but yeah, I don’t really understand the phenomenon of him on the whole.

My dear, phenomena are always being bubbled up. There are period pieces in criticism as there are period pieces in the novel and in poetry. The wind blows and they will go away.

His last book seemed to be a period piece at least in terms of its cover design. It looked like a textbook from the 30s or 40s. It was kind of cute.

A publisher wanted to send me the book and I said, “Please don’t.” I think it was my own publisher, of the huge book I’m working on called
Living Labyrinth: Literature and Influence, in which I’ve been bogged for five years now. It’s meant to be a grand summa and may be my undoing. Anyway, I told them, “Please don’t bother to send it.” I didn’t want to have to throw it out. There’s nothing to the man. He also has—and I haven’t ever read him on me—but I’m told he wrote a vicious review of me in the New Republic, which I never look at anyway, in which he clearly evidenced, as one of my old friends put it, a certain anxiety of influence. I don’t want to talk about him.

(from this interview)

9 comments:

Frances Madeson said...

"[Interviewer]: Oh, but hey, what about James Wood? I’m sort of kidding, of course.

[Bloom]: Oh, don’t even mention him. He doesn’t exist. He just does not exist at all."

If the kindly Professor Bloom were in earshot, I might say to him something like, "Uh, yes he does. And you, sir, helped pave the way for him."

Edmond Caldwell said...

A palpable hit, comrade Frances! I like some of Bloom's early, Anxiety-of-Influence stuff, but he did become a terrible banalizer and bore, didn't he?

Funny thing, though: The only Wood review of Bloom I know of is his very positive notice of the latter's Shakespeare Invention of the Human . . . Maybe there's another one I missed (that, or the senile Bloom is confusing himself with George Steiner).

Gerard Stocker said...

I think this is the one you're looking for, Edmond:

http://www.powells.com/review/2006_05_11.html

Edmond Caldwell said...

Yep, that definitely looks like the one. Thank you, Gerard!

It's funny, though, because all of Wood's general complaints about Bloom's recent work (as opposed to his particular gripe against the specific theological work under review) are just as true of Bloom's Shakespeare book, which Wood gushed over. I wonder what happened in the meantime...

Sean said...

I love dear old Harold the way I love Lester Bangs, disagreeing with almost every word but digging the ride nonetheless.

Whereas the work of you-know-who, even on those occasions when he's right, just seems so... pinched.

Edmond Caldwell said...

"Pinched" hits the nail on the head. In psychoanalytic terms, Bloom is anal-expulsive, whereas Wood is anal-retentive. Small wonder that the Bloom-Wood kissy-face period didn't last.

Chris said...

"I wonder what happened in the meantime..."

What happened in the meantime is Bloom, in the book under review, Yahweh & Jesus, applied his favorite theories, tenets, and hobbyhorses to the Christian religion.

Bloom's lack of respect, even outright disdain, for Christianity as a belief system obviously stuck in Wood's craw. The common claim that Wood is truly a theologian moonlighting as a literary critic is correct. That's what he is. As long as Bloom stuck to Shakespeare or Jane Austen, he was in Wood's good books (incidentally, Bloom paid back Wood's earlier rave by puffing Wood's first volume of criticism).

But the moment he wrote a book pretty much dismissing Christianity as one big mistake - spiritually, intellectually, morally - Wood started gritting his teeth. Bloom basically says in that book that the New Testament is in every way inferior to the Old Testament, and that it's extremely poorly written in the original Greek. Wood, the Augustine of book reviewers (temperamentally if not in intellectual stature), couldn't let that sort of irreligious remark pass without censure. It's almost a Pavlovian reaction with him.

Edmond Caldwell said...

"The common claim that Wood is truly a theologian moonlighting as a literary critic is correct."

I agree -- you can see this at work more recently in his review of Terry Eagleton's "Reason, Faith and Revolution," where the ostensible atheist Wood takes the believer Eagleton to task essentially for downplaying the divinity of Christ...

Anonymous said...

As usual, Bloom makes a huge claim (there's nothing to Wood, he'll be forgotten) and offers no reasoning in support of it.