MM: Marla Muse here with the Commissioner of Poetry Baseball himself, Harold Bloom. Thanks for meeting with me today, Commisioner.
HB: You’re quite welcome, Marla.
MM: Commissioner, a lot of eyebrows were raised when you took this job — what do you see as your role this season?
HB: Well Marla, as the media have repeatedly trumpeted, I am making less money in this job than I made at Yale.
MM: I’ve heard that, why’d you make the switch?
HB: Well Marla, each time I make the mistake of glancing at the Yale Weekly Bulletin, I shudder to see that the dean of Yale College has appointed yet another subdean to minister to the supposed cultural interests of another identity club: ethnic, racial, linguistic, with gender and erotic subsets.
MM: Absolutely, Commissioner, identity clubs. Now—
HB: Scolding the universities, or the media, is useless: enormous social pressures have been loosed upon institutions hopelessly vulnerable to cultural guilt. Every variety of “studies” at last will be housed: if sexual orientation is to be placed with race, ethnic group, and gender as sources of aesthetic and cognitive values, then why should we not have “Sado-Masochistic Studies,” in particular honor of the god of resentment, the late Michel Foucault?
MM: What team did he play for?
HB: Marla, Walt Whitman was not only the strongest of our poets (together with the highly antithetical Emily Dickinson), but he is also now the most betrayed of all our poets, with so much of the ongoing balderdash being preached in his name. Whitman’s poetry generally does the opposite of what he proclaims its work to be: it is reclusive, evasive, hermeutic, nuanced, and more onanistic even then homoerotic, which critics cannot accept, particularly these days when attempts are made to assimilate the Self-Reliant Whitman into what calls itself the Homosexual Poetic. If we are to have gay and lesbian studies, who will speak for Onan, whose bards include Whitman and the Goethe of “Faust, Part Two”?
MM: Onan, yes, absolutely. Now, Commissioner, you mentioned Whitman, what do you think the chances are for the Brooklyn Whitmans—
HB: The most figurative of our poets, Whitman will elude every effort to entrap him in an ideology. As elitist a democrat as his master Emerson, Whitman continues with his ideas of representation to outwit his historicizing and eroticizing critics. The crucial figure in Whitman is neither his self—Walt Whitman, one of the roughs, an American—nor his soul, but “the real me” or “me myself,” a conceptual image that prophesies Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot, and particularly John Ashbery:
MM: Um, Commissioner—
HB: “Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,/Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,/Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,/Looks with its sidecurved head curious what will come next,/Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.” That Whitmanian “what I am,” his “real me” or “me myself,” is both an inspiration to strong American poetry after him and a reproach to the cultural and erotic dogmas now circulated in his great name. It is no accident that the best American poets who have emerged from Whitman—sometimes insisting that they owed him nothing—are formalists, major artists of verse: Stevens, Eliot, Hart Crane, and even Ashbery when at his most gravely traditional. Cast out the aesthetic, and you cast away Whitman, who was a major poet and a poor prophet, and who was, above all else, a very difficult poet, whose synecdoches do not unravel without very frequent rereadings.
MM: Synecdoches, absolutely. Now Commissioner, let’s talk about some of the major trades going on this season, do you think that—
HB: Marla, authentic American poetry is necessarily difficult; it is our elitist art, though that elite has nothing to do with social class, gender, erotic preference, ethnic strain, race, or sect. “We live in the mind,” Stevens said, and our poetry always is either Emersonian or anti-Emersonian, but either way is informed by Emerson’s dialectics of power.
MM: OK, good, now this year the Concord Emersons have—
HB: “Life will be imaged, but cannot be divided nor doubled. Any invasion of its unity would be chaos. The soul is not twin-born, but the only begotten, and though revealing itself as a child in time, child in appearance, is of a fatal and universal power, admitting no co-life. Every day, every act betrays the ill-concealed deity. We believe in ourselves, as we do not believe in others. We permit all things to ourselves, and that which we call sin in others, is experiment for us. It is an instance of our faith in ourselves, that men never speak of crime as lightly as they think: or, every man thinks a latitude safe for himself, which is nowise to be indulged to another. The act looks very differently on the inside, and on the outside; in its quality, and its consequences. Murder in the murderer is no such ruinous thought as poets and romancers will have it; it does not unsettle him, or fright him from his ordinary notice of trifles: it is an act quite easy to be contemplated, but in its sequel, it turns out to be a horrible jangle and confounding all relations. Especially the crimes that spring from love, seem right and fair from the actor’s point of view, but, when acted, are found destructive of society. No man at last believes that he can be lost, nor that the crime in him is as black as in the felon. Because the intellect qualifies in our own case the moral judgments. For there is no crime to the intellect. That is antinomian or hypernomian, and judges law as well as fact.”
MM: Yes, hypernomian… Um—
HB: That, Marla, does not allow any room for the false generosity of any Affirmative Action in the judging of poetry. Printing, praising, and teaching bad poems for the sake of even the best causes is simply destructive for those causes. “We believe in ourselves, as we do not believe in others” is a truth that makes us wince, but no one can ever write a good poem without it. Tony Kushner, who could be a good playwright but for his obsession with the ideologies of political correctness, ought to ponder Emerson’s “Experience,” from which I have just quoted. Every attempt to socialize writing and reading fails; poetry is a solitary art, more now than ever, and its proper audience is the deeply educated, solitary reader, or that reader sitting within herself in a theater.
MM: Or in a baseball stadium? How about that Commissioner, can a baseball fan—
HB: The madness that contaminates our once high culture cannot be cured unless and until we surrender our more than Kafkan sense that social guilt is not to be doubted. Nothing can be more malignant than a disease of the spirit that sincerely regards itself as virtue.
MM: Yes, I remember George Kennan saying that—
HB: Shakespeare, performed and read in every country (with the sporadic exception of France, most xenophobic of cultures), is judged by audiences of every race and language to have put them on the stage. Shakespeare’s power has nothing to do with Eurocentrism, maleness, Christianity, or Elizabethan-Jacobean social energies. No one else so combined cognitive strength, originality, dramatic guile, and linguistic florabundance as virtually to reinvent the human, and Shakespeare is therefore the best battlefield upon which to fight the rabblement of Resenters.
MM: Resenters, absolutely. Commissioner, now let me ask you—
HB: Shakespeare, pragmatically the true multiculturalist, is the least reductive of all writers; his men and women never invite us to believe that when we know the worst about them, then we know exactly who they are. Emerson, in “Representative Men”, caught this best—
MM: No, Commissioner, please, no more Emerson quotes, we have to cut to a commercial now—
HB: “Shakespeare is as much out of the category of eminent authors, as he is out of the crowd. He is inconceivably wise; the others, conceivably. A good reader can, in a sort, nestle into Plato’s brain, and think from thence; but not into Shakespeare’s. We are still out of doors. For executive faculty, for creation, Shakespeare is unique. No man can imagine it better. He was the farthest reach of subtlety compatible with an individual self, — the subtlest of authors, and only just…”