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.