So I’ve been thinking about Harold Bloom (again). And what I’ve been thinking about is this:
Why does one of the greatest literary critics of the 20th century, which is to say, one of the most perceptive readers of the 20th century, claim to be a Jewish Gnostic? In other words, what does that even mean?
I”ve wondered about this a lot. Because, at a literal level, it seems difficult, (for me at least), to take Gnosticism – or for that matter any religion – seriously. And yet Bloom takes Gnosticism extremely seriously – not seriously enough to preclude irony, however, but serious in the way in which he is aware of Gnosticism’s profundities, its heretical sublime revisionary swerves.
What I’m trying to do is articulate how I understand Bloom’s relationship to Gnosticism. I find it fascinating, in part because there is something so wonderfully perverse about it – a fabulous 20th century critic who believes in archons and angelic hierarchies…? What the heck?
Yet in another sense, I think it makes total sense that Bloom is a Gnostic. Because I think Bloom understands Gnostics simply to be extremely profound readers, which is to say, marvelously sublime misreaders. Somewhere in the Anxiety of Influence, which I think needs to be read more deeply that it has been, (okay, I need to read it better than I have read it), Bloom talks about the burden of knowing what he is saying is right, even when what he says is actually wrong. Is that a perverse way of saying, or encouraging us to think, that as long as we remain ironists, we can read the most fabulously imaginative literature and interpret it in our most idionsyncratically perverse ways?
What am I trying to say? I think there is a way to unite Richard Rorty’s secularism with Bloom’s Gnosticism. And I think Bloom has already pretty much done it. And I think Rorty has done it, too. I can’t say how, exactly; but my intuition, if it’s right, is that there is a way to unite both men’s literary criticisms in a responsibly way, whereby both men’s visions are re-described in terms of the imagination, the relationship of the literal to the metaphorical, the role of the poet as shaman, and some other categories I still need to work on.