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  Harold Bloom’s Genius
gary e. davis
May 2020
Bloom never intimates that he’s a genius—very much the contrary: He’s enchanted by canonical others (Literary—I capitalize) who evince certain traits. “Genius [seeks] to teach…how to think about exemplary human lives at their most creative” (8). So too for Literary “genius.” (I’m dropping the quote marks, but my discussion is about genius so-called by Bloom.)

“Vitality is the measure of literary genius,” says Bloom. “We read in search of more life, and only genius can make that available to use” (4). I’m assuming that ‘use’ isn’t a typo: genius that’s available to us to use. But, to say that vitality is “the” measure (rather than a measure among measures) sets up ‘vitality’ for a particularly Bloomian sense: an audacity of appeal that other academic readers have called elitist—which Bloom evidently welcomes: “The dead genius is more alive than we [ordinarily] are, just as Falstaff and Hamlet are considerably livelier than many people I know” (ibid.).

“Genius, by necessity, invokes the transcendental and the extraordinary, because it is fully conscious of them” (12), i.e., of “gods” (for this extracted quote). I think of ‘god’ as archetropal personification (or metonymical sense of archetype)—and Bloom does, too, given his discussion of Greek and Latin precursors. “The” trans-cendental is the same as the Romantic sublime: being drawn into intangibly high senses of being by the Literary window—into full inspiration of oneSelf by the textual mirror.

Perhaps it’s fair to regard the Literary work as highly window-mirroring text that presumes longing for transcendentality—for full inspiration. For Bloom, “…it is hard to go on living without some hope of encountering the extraordinary” (4), though it has its dangers: “We call it ‘falling in love’…” Now, there’s an interesting challenge.

So, for Bloom, “to confront the extraordinary in a [great] book….is our best path for teaching wisdom, which I believe to be the truest use of literature for life.”
No: Teaching wisdom is an excellent use of Literature, yet enabling another’s own creativity is better. Having one’s own creativity enabled or enriched is ideal.

This is evident in Bloom’s ambivalence about the locus of gnosis in Literary efficacy: “…a simplifying definition of Gnosticism is…a knowledge that frees the creative mind…[for] what is most imaginative in the self.” “…[E]xemplary human lives at their most creative” (8) may, at best, enable one’s most creative potential to importantly further itself. But Bloom cherishes a religious conception of this (“religion of literature” [xviii]), which is contrary to Literature itself: “…what is most imaginative in the self…[is] intoxication of unprecedentedness…for expan-sion of the mind’s consciousness of itself” (ibid.). Such inspiration of oneSelf, at best, thereby wants to grow its own work, beyond beholding others’ great poiesis.

That is at best no religion of Literary sensibility. It’s an enabling of one’s own literary potential; not basically worshipful. Bloom admirably sanctifies Literary culturality, but then ‘religion’ becomes tropical of that very secular sanctification. Religiosity is understood as Literary devotion. Traditionally-“religious” narrative becomes archetropally poetry—which is also the genius of Shakespearean drama-tic scripture, as if “Shakespeare” is the transposition to public dramatic form of his private Sonnet-ian psychality).

Scale of “consciousness is what defines genius: Shakespeare, like his Hamlet, exceeds us in consciousness, goes beyond the highest order of consciousness, that we are capable of knowing without him” (12). Yet, that scale transcends particular works. “Shakespeare”—author of given works—is an authorship (inferrable from each work), but whom Shakespeare-the-Worker was, is conceptual prospecting— not as issue of historical personage, but as singular Creativity. Shakespeare is an elusively cohering fiction (a mystery of epochal poetic range). To avow that “Shakespeare’s art is itself nature, and his consciousness can seem more the product of his art than its producer” (ibid.) is aspiring to know the difference between Work (“nature…art”) and particular works—mysterious authorial authorship that variably produces brilliant characters.

There is a hermeneuticness of authorship in each work—an enstancing of authoriality between his Work and poetic plays.

So, inhabiting genius is like bringing a god into tutelege that inspires one’s own potential for high self-actualization. Enowning the great art—which might be as epistemic or as ennobling as it is aesthetic—is self-evincive maieutic, whereby “identification” (Bloom’s efficacity of longing) feels like finding what already always (“what is oldest” [11]) belonged with oneSelf.

I prospect that such belonging is essentially participation in Our evolving as aspiring to such a degree. Echoes of the past play forward in a life (progressively, relative to the life) into unprecedented leaps of culture (progressing, relative to the times), which become well-grounded across generations educationally (where teaching—whatever the subject—is integrally hermeneutical: philological). And new generations evolve to leave gods (and archetropes) behind in the “disclosed” (window-mirroring) genius of evolving times.

Ultimately, Bloom is an ironic sensibility: On the one hand, genius “…frees the creative mind from theology, from historicizing, and from any divinity that is totally distinct from what is most imaginative in the self” (xviii). etc. On the other hand, his governing tropicality is the Sefirot of Kabbalah (listed below), which seems antedated by the haunting of his Yale English department (mid-1970s through early ‘90s—the home of Deconstructivism) by Heidegger, who’s absent from Bloom’s pantheon, though Bloom includes, near the head of his Sefirot body, Plato, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche.

Genius is a 10-fold proteanity (protean-ity) of the Creative career, echoing (for me) a resonance between Heidegger’s pathmaking as Contributions to Philosophy (from “Echoes” above to “evolving times”) and Heidegger’s earlier pathmaking as Being and Time:
  • hermeneuts of historicality (Hokmah)
  • sojourners of/in historicality (Binah)
  • love’s mortality (Hesed)
  • odysseyness or sojournity of engaged persistence (Nezah)
  • aesthetic feeling (Tiferet)
  • poeticness (Din)
  • godheads (Keter)
  • teacher of virtue in leadership (Hod)
  • builders of futurity (Yesod)
  • teachers of being in the times of one’s life (Malkhut)
Bloom wayfares the sea of “secular immortality” (814: the last words of Genius) as Literary singularity:
…If there is a secular immortality, it belongs to genius. A few [authors]…played with the fantasy that nature would make a literal exception for those with preternatural gifts of creativity. There is a heroic pathos in such play, but the future of genius is always metaphorical.”
No: conceptual.

I’ll discuss 43 of the 100 members of Bloom’s pantheon later.



  Be fair. © 2020, gary e. davis