As one thinks of Harold Bloom, Auden's description of Wyndham Lewis as a lonely old volcano comes to mind. Though not, like Lewis, 'of the Right', or indeed claiming any political alignment, Bloom erupts with comparable regularity and force. He prefers to be a one-man cultural opposition, waving only the banner of aesthetics; he says there are no Bloomians, but everybody knows him and all wonder, usually with exasperated affection, what he will do next. He is exceptionally and systematically well read, and exceptionally keen to promulgate his readings and his systems. Although, like Lewis, he loves to insult his opponents, he does so with amenity and apparent immunity. He has, in a quietly joyous fashion, the chutzpah to put his stamp on the whole of literature from Genesis to Ashbery, rivalling the scope of hero-critics like Saintsbury or Curtius or Auerbach though more giddily adventurous than they were. A few years ago he was maintaining that the parts of the Old Testament attributed to J, the Yahwist (that is, the author who refers to God as Yahveh), were written by a woman at the decadent court of Rehoboam. It seems a reviewer, entering into the spirit of this amusing but baseless conjecture, suggested that we might as well identify the author as Bathsheba, famous first as a bather, later as the mother of Solomon, and finally as J, mistress of the sublime and the uncanny as well as of King David. In this new book Bloom cheerfully accepts the reviewer's proposal. That the author of what eventually became the Torah should have been the relict of the unlucky Uriah, and not an Israelite, but a Hittite, was plainly irresistible. Henceforth, he says, he will refer to J as Bathsheba. But I notice that he does not include Bathsheba's name in the long list of canonical works in his appendix, nor among his authors in the index. Bloom is very serious but can also be a bit of a tease.
LRB 22 December 1994 | PDF Download