Harold Bloom flirts with sexism– oh, sorry, “Political Correctness”

You know, I actually like Harold Bloom. His interpretation of The Taming of the Shrew (short version: for God’s sake, that speech at the end is ironic!) is close to my heart. He’s a huge fan of John Crowley, for which I can only admire his taste. But his much-quoted reaction to Doris Lessing’s win of the Nobel Prize in literature smacks (I hate to say it) of entrenched chauvinism:

Judges praised her for her “skepticism, fire and visionary power.” Once again, all the “favorites” were passed over. Just earlier today, the AP was tipping Philip Roth, Amos Oz, and Haruki Murakami. And now the service says “the Swedish academy’s announcement was stunning even by the standards of Nobel judges, who have been known for such surprises as Austria’s Elfriede Jelinek and Italy’s Dario Fo.”

Harold Bloom, as ever, is ready to dissent: “Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction.” He says the prize is “pure political correctness.”

Let’s see if we can deconstruct that a little, shall we? By using the deeply coded phrase “political correctness,” Bloom obviously means to imply that something other than her (apparently fourth-rate) literary abilities went into her selection. Now, despite the brave efforts of legions of marginalized SF writers, the cause of equal speculative fiction rights has yet to hit the mainstream (let alone the hallowed halls of august literary prizes like the Nobel). Thus, I can only imagine that the aspect of her selection that offended enough to outrage the professor was her gender.

In other words, he is accusing the judges of selecting this revered and much admired writer because she is a woman.

Frankly, it’s a statement of rank sexism. Professor Bloom, is it impossible for you to state that you perhaps dislike Ms. Lessing’s writing and feel there are better candidates for the award without dismissing the entire judging process as one dependent upon “political correctness”? Because apparently, in your mind, there could be no other reason for selecting this woman than her gender and literary exploration of women’s issues.

Dare I suggest that had the usual white male been the recipient of this award, you might have confined your dismissal of the choice to his actual writing, and not spurious political motives of the judges? Why don’t women get the same basic courtesy? Why must we always struggle, in every recognition we receive, against this sexist, repressive, conservative notion that all our successes are due to “political correctness” and not intrinsic worth?

I wouldn’t have been surprised to read such statements from a Sean Hannity or Pat Buchanan (well, if the subject weren’t literature, anyway), but coming from Harold Bloom they are more than a little dispiriting.

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10 thoughts on “Harold Bloom flirts with sexism– oh, sorry, “Political Correctness”

  1. Saladin says:

    Oh, lordy. This is the same guy who, in editing “The Best of the Best of American Poetry”, defiantly picked almot all white men and wrote an introduction where he rallied the anti-multiculturalists with the cry “They have the numbers; we, the heights” [it’s Thucydides, I think].

    He’s also notorious for being sleazy with female students.

  2. Alaya says:

    Jesus, did he really? How the hell can people think this way?

  3. Lauren M says:

    What a dick. Yeah, I said, dick. Cause that’s what he is.

  4. May I start by mentioning that I have a degree in Women’s Studies and a love of all literature. But this reverse-witch hunt of Bloom is getting a bit tired. It is clear in most arguments that the detractors have never read much harold bloom. As an undergrad I remember a common refrain given to the comments of students who felt the need to speak, but who had read little more than the title of the assignment: “I think you’re reading too much into it.”

  5. Alaya says:

    Dear Brendan,

    Would YOU like to give your own privileged interpretation of what the dear professor meant by “pure political correctness”? I’m all ears.

  6. As a recovering journalist and for other reasons I would be happy to offer you my interpretation of what it means to have complex ideas misinterpreted by the press 🙂 I think you can read Harold Bloom and think he has some good points. You can also get so bored that you miss some imporant truths. Same thing with Proust. Brilliant, ground-shaking material, but who can sit there and read through it all? One of Blooms points is that if he could prove that Lucy Negro (Elizabethan east indian sex worker) is the dark lady of the sonnets and the actual author of shakespeare’s plays would that change anything. Another is: “But I’m a crotchety old bastard who learned English from reading Blake do we really have to lose William Blake over this? My soup’s too hot!” It’s a little much to get worked up over when we should all just read some more. The least of his offenses is that he actually did read the winner’s work and just happened to not like it as much as Roth.

  7. AMF says:

    I think Mr. Bloom is being very badly misunderstood. My hypothesis is that Blooom views Ms. Lessing as a bad choice because he views her writing as bad. Since he has praised other women writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, I see no reason to disregard this hypothesis and conclude that he views it a bad choice because Lessing is a woman. I think the Nobel Prize may have become political, alas.

  8. asdf says:

    Bloom is a literary god whose work will eventually be included in the Library of America. “The Anxiety of Influece” is a masterpiece.

    A.R. Ammons wrote a poem named “For Harold Bloom.” Robert Penn Warren dedicated a poem to Harold Bloom. John Crowley has acknowledged the influence of Bloom on his own work. Australian poet John Kinsella has dedicated work to Bloom. Next to these immortal, canonical authors, who are you? I’ll take Ammons and Warren over your judgment without question.

    It is amusing to read comments by Bloom’s contemporaries who dismiss his work. It is exactly analogous to someone in the 18th century dismissing Samuel Johnson or someone in the 19th century dismissing Walter Pater. It simply shows your mind for what it is — second rate.

  9. Alaya says:

    Ahh, the dulcet tones of argument from authority. I love the sound of logical fallacy in the morning.

    Anyway, asdf– IF THAT’S YOUR REAL NAME– you will notice I wasn’t actually dismissing Bloom’s work, but pointing out that his reaction to the selection of Lessing for the Nobel Prize smacked of sexism. I love John Crowley. I appreciate a lot of Bloom’s work. I’m sure he’ll always be about a million times more famous and important than I. That doesn’t make the statement less sexist.

  10. ephebe says:

    We don’t have to search far for an alternative interpretation of “political correctness” that doesn’t smack of sexism, do we? Bloom has made it clear that he views reactionary “isms” of all kinds, not just feminism, as politically not literarily motivated. What he means by “political correctness” is that Lessing was a choice inoffensive to the “schools of resentment” that might otherwise signal their victimized outrage.

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