The below reading notes are taken from the first half of Ozick's essay "Literature as Idol: Harold Bloom" in her 1983 collection Art and Ardor.
The remainder of the essay redirects from Bloom's critical approach to a broader consideration of idolatry in Judaism. This was fascinating, but beyond my competence to understand.
[....] against a background of nineteenth-century impressionistic "appreciation," which included not only the words of the poem, but speculations about the "mood" of the poet, with appropriate allusions to the poet's life, and often enough an account of the state of mind or spirit of the reader while under the mood-influence of the poem. The New Criticism, puritan and stringent, aimed to throw out everything that was extravagant or extraneous, everything smacking of "sensibility" or susceptibility, every deviation….
[....] [Bloom's goal] revive the subjective style of impressionism, wherein the criticism of the text vies as a literary display with the text itself, and on a competitive level of virtuosity, even of "beauty."
[....] made connections well out of the provincial text itself
[....] fanatic homage to the real presence of palpable stanzas, lines, and phrases
[....] he conceived of poetry-reading as a kind of poetry-writing, or rewriting
[....] though he stuck to explication de texte in the old way, he made connections outside of the text in a new way—and, besides, he raised the subjectivist mode of vying with the original to a higher pitch
than ever before, while draining it of all self-indulgence.
[....] connections beyond "the poem itself" that he found were neither social nor psychobiographical.... they were theological
[....] Jewish Gnosticism strained through Freud, Nietzsche, Vico, and, of course, Gershom Scholem
[....] The real shock of Bloom was that he overturned what the academy had taken for granted for a good number of graduate-school generations: that if you analyze a poem closely enough, and with enough dogged attention to the inherent world of accessible allusion locked into every phrase, you will at length find out
what the poem truly means.
[....] draining it of all self-indulgence.
[....] "Few notions," Bloom observed, are more difficult to dispel than the "commonsensical" one that a poetic text is self-contained, that it has an ascertainable meaning or meanings without reference to other poetic texts. Something in nearly every reader wants to say: "Here is a poem and there is a meaning, and I am reasonably certain that the two can be brought together." Unfortunately, poems are not things but only words that refer to other words, and those words refer to still other words, and so on, into the deeply populated world of literary language. Any poem is an inter-poem, and any reading of a poem is an inter-reading. A poem is not writing, but rewriting , and though a strong poem is a fresh start, such a start is a starting-again.
[....] "Such a start is starting-again."
[....] He divides poets into "precursors" and "ephebes," or revisers; and he defines revision as purposeful misinterpretation, or "misprision."
[....] any poet born afterward is born into the condition of "belatedness," which he fights by wresting not the flame of the precursor, which cannot be taken, but the power to remake the flame. Invention is replaced by interpretation.
[....] that there is only interpretation, and that every interpretation answers an earlier interpretation, and then must yield to a later one.
[....] There are no interpretations but only misinterpretations, and so all criticism is prose poetry.
[....] interpretation is a process nearly analogous to a process in physics; to describe and summarize….
[....] how a poem comes into being out of its reading of an earlier poem, i.e., out of its own "swerving" from the influence of a powerful precursor-poem, Bloom names a "dialectic of revisionism"the drama of giants who once walked the earth, and turned "originality" into an acrobatic labor for those who came after.
[....] a contest for power, in which the competitors struggle for the possession of context; in which context is contest.
[....] contains the triad of re-seeing, re-esteeming, and re-aiming, which in Kabbalistic terms becomes the triad of contraction, breaking-of-the-vessels, and restitution, and in poetic terms the triad of limitation, substitution, and representation
[....] What Bloom means by "revisionism" is a breaking off with the precursor; a violation of what has been transmitted; a deliberate offense against the given, against the hallowed; an unhallowing of the old great gods; the usurpation of an inheritance by the inheritor himself; displacement. Above all, the theft of power.
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24 August 2022
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