Harold Bloom: The Critic As Gnostic (Critical Essay)

Harold Bloom: The Critic As Gnostic (Critical Essay) Summary

A CHRISTIAN CRITIC confronting the work of Professor Harold Bloom may well find himself in a frame of mind analogous to the apostle, St. John: "Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, who followeth not us; and we forbade him" (Mk. 9. 37). This critic may well fear the same rebuke that St. John received: "But Jesus said: Do not for bid him. For there is no man that doth a miracle in my name and can soon speak ill of me. For he that is not against you is for you" (Mk. 9.38-39; Lk. 9. 49-50). Bloom is, after all, the defender of the Western canon and scourge of "the Party of Resentment"--the Marxists, the feminists, and the new historicists who all strive to reduce literature to the ideological effluent of the material substructure or to patriarchal repression or to hegemonic power relations. This same Bloom is also, however, the author of The American Religion (1992), which identifies the faith of our country as Emersonian Gnosticism, and of The Book of J (1990), which speculates that "the original author of what we now call Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers" was a skeptical Hittite woman, whom he has subsequently decided to identify with Bathsheba. (1) At this point our Christian critic may reflect upon another Dominical utterance from the gospels: "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth" (Mt. 12. 30; Lk. 11. 23). Such is the dilemma posed by an era in which Harold Bloom, who proclaims himself a Gnostic and whose principal contribution to literary theory is a Freudian interpretation of the history of literary influence, is regarded as "a staunch defender of the Western literary tradition," "a powerful warrior on the literary field, always ready to raise his lance in the name of the Western tradition." (2) Bloom has not changed; he is in the situation of an aging revolutionary whose revolution has been overtaken and subverted by the next generation. Robespierre, one will recall, came to his end under the blade of the guillotine. It is a grimly ironic truth that Bloom's own Gnostic Freudian treatment of literature and, above all, of authors, opened the gates to the postmodern assassins of the Party of Resentment, who now conduct their scornful ritual over the "death of the author." Finally, it is precisely his hostility to Christianity and his effort to displace it, spiritually and intellectually, which has resulted in the most grievous damage to the literary tradition that Bloom claims to love. While he gazes unblinkingly at the devastation wrought upon the tradition by the postmodern assault, he is blind to the intimate and indispensable bond between the secular "canon" and the Faith informing its necessary model, the scriptural canon. Western civilization is the cultural embodiment of Christendom; when its cultural heart stops beating, all that is left is a corpse.

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