Sunday, January 6, 2013

Basking in the Reflection of Genius, 1958

Harold Bloom

     Dad says he was never much of a scholar but in his senior year he was one of 15 Yale University seniors accepted by Harold Bloom for his honors seminar. Bloom, who received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1985, was already a well known scholar of immense insight and intelligence and it is safe to say the big man, "militantly out of shape , with a pale, pasty complexion and heavy, doughy jowls" intimidated every student in his classroom.

     Dad remembered his Bloom honors class in a 1997 contribution to The Yale Alumni Magazine:

      We had started off with Blake, and for two weeks Bloom had spoken to us, lectured us, cajoled us; he kept alluding to "Orc cycles" --something which, evidently, had great significance and which we needed to be well aware of if we were going to have any understanding of Blake at all. I was left with the feeling I had missed a critical class: the one in which he explained what an Orc cycle was. No one else seemed confused, so I didn't dare ask. 

    Finally, at the end of the second week of classes, he and another classmate took a poll and realized not one student had the faintest idea what Bloom has been talking about thus far that year. Dad was elected to break the news to Bloom at the next meeting.

"P-p-professor Bloom," I stammered. " The class has asked me ask you if you might tell us what, exactly, an 'Orc cycle' is." 
      Bloom's fingertips lifted to his face, his nails dug great creases in his jowls; and then like Star War's "Jabba the Hut, " he set about explaining. But even as he was telling us I knew I still didn't understand. That I would never understand!

    So instead, Dad did his senior thesis for Bloom on Wordsworth.

    ...something uninspiring about innocence as a literary device. But then, I had understood Wordsworth: all those lambs, daffodils, clouds, lakes, bridges without an Orc in view. My paper came back with a gentlemanly "C" and in Bloom's precise handwriting, his one simple straightforward declarative sentence: "Your style is frequently barbaric!"

1 comment:

  1. That's hilarious.

    I once tried reading "Anxiety of Influence" by Bloom. It was peppered with many small brilliant insights but seemed random in its organisation and I couldn't tell you where it was going. The title probably said it all -- and with wonderful concision -- but he still had to follow it with a demonstration, which he seemed unable to pull off.