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Harold Bloom - any fans or foes of his here?


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I guess I'd call myself a foe.

 

I think a good place to start is his book The Western Canon. I havent read any of his books about Christianity, but I'm sure you'd learn more him there, too (or at least about what he doesn't like). You won't find out a lot about Mr Bloom by reading his Lit criticism books on pieces of lit, like Huck Finn. Those are collections of essays by other folks (which I find dry). You also won't find out a lot about Mr Bloom from his collections of poems and such, except that he appreciates classic Western lit.

 

I guess I should say why I'm a foe. Well, there's a lot I don't like but could ignore (his pompousness, his endless efforts to dispute faith, etc) in order to learn from him (his excellent knowledge of classic western lit, his refusal to give merit to modern lit if not justified, his bringing Judeochristian ideas and lit into the conversation), except... for me it doesn't really teach my anything. After plodding thru his extreme loathing of everyone besides himself, Shakespeare, and a few other deceased authors, in the end his lengthyyyyy arguments seem rather circular to me and don't leave me enlightened on anything.

 

I'd love to hear from someone who actually learned something from Mr Bloom's words (besides Mr Bloom ;) ).

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I've watched a ton of interviews with him. Read about his precursor attachment to Northrup Frye in Wikipedia, then, in a interview with Charlie Rose, he changes that name to Samuel Johnson..never even mentioned Frye.

 

Which is it?

 

When I watch the interviews with him, I do get the feeling he's stressed by "twaddling" down great thoughts for the "general public" - as if the gp were a field of delicate lilies that could not bear his formidable thoughts.

 

But I also think he's a very lonely man. Sleeps only a couple of hours a night, doesn't do a lot of intellectual bantering (Frye was the same), just prefers doing his job and hanging with the family at home where he's comfy. I don't begrudge him any of that...but..(isn't there always a but?)

 

When he goes off on these jags about the decline of intellectualism in higher education specifically - (as he's also known to NOT read his students papers) - how in the world does he stand on this theory that it's all for nothing if he doesn't get out in the world to discuss ideas? Is the soup he mixes in the midnight hours all he ever gets?

 

I'm impressed with his accomplishments, but I feel at the same time there's something just this side of dangerous of buying in too deeply to someone who (and I could be wrong here) has sheltered his life away from any other opinions (informed or not) in the realms of literature, be it a five year old in glee with Pinocchio, or a remote individual who has a distinct and different take on things.

 

I just don't feel right now that he's exposed himself to enough other thoughts (in NON print) or maybe shy's away from challenge in that area to create a sense of self-security.

 

Yes, No? Did you have any of these thoughts?

 

Bloom says on page 15 of WEM that- I need to pull the full phrase out here to pound on it...

 

(Contemporary critics of university education might add that a Ph.D. doesn't necessarily train and fill the mind in any case; this, sniffs Harold Bloom, is a "largely forgotten function of a university education," since universities now "disdain to fulfill" our yearning for the classics.).

 

Okay, so dude is up in the ivory tower of Yale (and is that a fair breeding ground for reflection of common society for one..) and do you think it's true?

 

Do universities really "disdain" the classics?

 

Is there some sinister plot afoot to destroy critical thinking about major written works?

 

----

 

I traveled off this last night to read a few articles about the increased use of audio books of the classics. Long story short, is this "good/bad" or somewhere in-between?

 

Can a person really get from a book on audio the same type of knowledge they can if it's in print and read, handled and devoured? Does the message you receive become distorted with audio vs. print?

 

Northrup Frye, in a essay I read last night said something about how he considered the incoming crop of students to university permanently damaged by electronic society. He felt their brains and ability to think through difficult texts were so atrophied by the time they reached him as students that it was futile to even try and he was discouraged.

 

Northrup Frye, just as Bloom did...in their golden years, write and publish books on "how to read the classics" and both said they did their best to write texts they felt the general public could benefit from, and removed as much academic brohahaha and terms from them as they felt the public just wouldn't understand.

 

I find both of them pretty stuck up honestly, but in their own way, what else is there to expect?

 

Bloom's religious outpourings freaked me right out.

 

He said that he believed the Book of Genesis was written by a female in Solomon's Court.

 

WHAT? :001_unsure:

 

Not going to chase anything else concerning Bloom and his stance on religious matters, that's not why I wanted to know more about him, but with those colorings of his background, the isolation-nearly living on another planet....I really don't know whether to go forward and use him as a guide now and then as a critic for understanding Great Books in the future or just dump him as a side show bunny.

 

Thoughts?

Edited by one*mom
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A mixed bag. Some of his attitudes are refreshing in the climate of intellectual poverty that exists today even in much of academia. Others, not so much, with an eye-rolling potential even.

 

The universities really do disdain the classics.

In most universities you do get cheated out of a good education and there seems to be a loss of a critical majority of "properly" educated people, most people have cheap substitutes for what used to be a proper humanist education.

 

Print is better than audio, and will always top audio-visual material, because it does not dictate pace.

 

Who cares who wrote the Book of Genesis. It is the *text*, not the *context* that one should be interested in from the point of view of literary criticism.

 

Not a fan, but it is very difficult to classify myself as a foe because there is much loud and provocative mediocrity and pseudo-intellectualism out there to be positively negative about and reserve foe feelings for.

So, indifferent, for the most part.

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One more thing that was bugging me about the idea, in very real and practical terms in his statement:

 

(Contemporary critics of university education might add that a Ph.D. doesn't necessarily train and fill the mind in any case; this, sniffs Harold Bloom, is a "largely forgotten function of a university education," since universities now "disdain to fulfill" our yearning for the classics.).

 

This criticism itself is valid I think - however...

 

Could it be that in professional lives...let's take an example of an airline pilot for one...

 

Could it be that in modern culture and society, that the skills required are so highly technical now, that there simply is not a critical, immediate need for those skills given to us by classics in order to perform with accuracy the profession at the highest levels of competence?

 

When I'm boarding (and this is a extremely gross comparison, but I hope it transfers properly in the base of the question) - I'm not going to shake down the pilot and inquire about his books read/studied in the Western Cannon by Bloom, or any at all actually. I don't care if he was ever read Cinderella even.

 

I'm placing my life, faith and belief that the pilot spent more time in other fields and achievements.

 

(And I'm saying at the same time, that yes...there is in this imaginary hypothesis of a pilot that wasn't studied or educated in classics say - a hole there in a person's inner-life..)

 

Can it be that the society we live in today is experiencing a drought in this area because of the bulls-eye goal of graduate and get on with making a paycheck, rather than a "fault" of universities to establish a well-rounded education?

 

Would we accept a more lengthy time at university which included this discovery and slowed down the process of graduation (along with the price-tag issues) - and perhaps the lack of this study is just a reflection of production and the complex knowledge needed to perform those professions?

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I've read both The Book of J and The American Religion when they were first published. I found both fairly easy to read and enjoyable. I would not use them as text books to define those topics, but as a source of criticism and insight they were good.

 

I also got his book on Shakespeare to use more as a source book to help me begin to break a play down and trace themes. However, it turned out I liked Marjorie Garber's similar book better.

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My, your head has been spinning this weekend, hasn't it?

 

I've watched a ton of interviews with him. ...

But I also think he's a very lonely man. Sleeps only a couple of hours a night, doesn't do a lot of intellectual bantering (Frye was the same), just prefers doing his job and hanging with the family at home where he's comfy. I don't begrudge him any of that...but..(isn't there always a but?)

I prefer being at home & I'm not lonely. I get the feeling he creates his own loneliness by branding everyone else in the world to be beneath him?

 

When he goes off on these jags about the decline of intellectualism in higher education specifically - (as he's also known to NOT read his students papers) - how in the world does he stand on this theory that it's all for nothing if he doesn't get out in the world to discuss ideas? Is the soup he mixes in the midnight hours all he ever gets?

Personally I find it common but unpleasant to read criticism from someone in any realm (politics, academics, media) who doesn't take part in the kinds of things that would actually help -- teaching, volunteering, generating ideas that might succeed better than the ones they are criticizing...

 

(Contemporary critics of university education might add that a Ph.D. doesn't necessarily train and fill the mind in any case; this, sniffs Harold Bloom, is a "largely forgotten function of a university education," since universities now "disdain to fulfill" our yearning for the classics.).

To some extent, hasn't every generation bemoaned the young and the loss of what was good?

 

I traveled off this last night to read a few articles about the increased use of audio books of the classics. Long story short, is this "good/bad" or somewhere in-between?

 

Can a person really get from a book on audio the same type of knowledge they can if it's in print and read, handled and devoured? Does the message you receive become distorted with audio vs. print?

I'm going to strongly disagree with that. I don't think the pace is an issue because (1) it's slower than reading to myself, and (2) I have a pause button. There's also (3) the speaker is usually more familiar with the pronunciations and intonations than I am going to be on first read.

 

In my experience, we get in more reading when we use audiobooks at times. Maybe one of the reasons is that we *don't* devour it to death, at least on first read. Books that are devoured and analyzed often don't get finished, and get judged based on early impressions. Audiobooks give us enough time with the piece to really decide whether it was worthy, because we've heard the entire piece. Even WEM promotes a quick reading the first time through, without devouring. Audiobooks can do this very well, IMHO. The best books of course get read again in print, analyzed, and devoured. But due to the number of hours in a lifetime, far fewer can be on this list than on a list for general listening.

 

(And I haven't read Frye.)

 

Bloom's religious outpourings freaked me right out.

 

He said that he believed the Book of Genesis was written by a female in Solomon's Court.

Yes, I listened to a series of lectures by Bloom and he got into the female author of Genesis. I thought it was mighty condescending of him to think that thousands of years of rabbi scholars would have missed something so glaring, and that Mr. Bloom finally helped them figure it out :001_rolleyes:

 

The general impression that I got from his audio lectures was that Mr. Bloom was in his element when he had a little audience of literature students gathered at his feet and looking up - maybe that's what he misses in the new generation :)

 

Julie

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I need to teleflora you some roses or something Julie - I think you may have solved a huge problem for me as a reader and tackling WEM. It is my ingrained DNA when reading to stop at every sentence and reflect, pause and bewilder...it makes life both interesting but has become obviously that reading in a WEM methodology this is my Achilles Heel.

 

I've probably been trotting around with WEM for, I dunno...over a month, maybe less than two...and it's really been difficult for me to learn a new style of reading. When I hit upon the conceptual application of the Trivium to reading-agh..and the rules for it, it was more than hard.

 

"Oh, just pick it up and read it beginning to end without pause?"

 

Are you insane, I could miss something! :lol:

 

I read very, very fast as far as wpm goes..however-when it comes to wanting to academically tackle something, it's a whole 'nother ballgame.

 

So it's taken me some time to reformulate and practice-I think I had 1 single week of this journey in the prescribed method - and I've pretty much cheated on the rest; and I feel a bit of self-loathing about that. My training isn't going very well.

 

But I sure am learning a lot. Page 15 of WEM is in reality - really only page 3 of the book (once the intro, etc. discounted.) So ya. I'm embarrassed. 3 pages in what is approaching two months.:blushing:

 

pagecat.jpg

 

I adore the idea of challenging and "fixin" myself on this issue with an audio book for the 1st reading. It really might work for a girl like me who does mental surgery on every word. It's a real sticking point for me.

 

So thanks for bringing up that point of view, I really appreciate it.

 

When I saw that article last night about the book clubs, folks listening to classics and forming book clubs around them....I was absolutely lost, slightly horrified and did my best to be understanding and keep open-minded about it.

 

I mean really, how do you concentrate, drive, listen and try to get it all in audio? I'm probably not capable of driving and listening to an audio book..it's the equivalent of driving and talking on a cell-phone, I'd end up in a ditch a block away from the house.

 

"Let the record reflect she was under the influence of Bronte..." :lol:

 

Another thing that sort of chaffed me to pause was the assertiveness by Bloom that poetry slams are...(I think I have a mental block on the word he used) - more than useless.

 

My background with poetry, which feels like my entire life - says differently. To not have poetry slams (or readings at all) is the same as setting fire to the Library of Congress. It's just too disgusting to think about.

 

I felt like drawing a weapon on that reflection of his. Dude is wrong.

 

Plain flat out wrong as it gets. Insidious, and more than misleading.

 

He needs to go to the clinic on that one.

 

Oh. Ya. That "thing" with Bloom and clinics of the real kind...that's kinda weird too - the whole nervous breakdown issue.

 

I've wondered about that in more ways than one...like if there was a gap-stop in his mental development that sent him into a backward spiral and did NOT ..in his estimation...develop the fine fruits of his genius and opinion.

 

But hey, I'm a chick who's just not swam in his waters either..so what do I know?

 

Just some more thoughts on Bloom.

 

We are better off as a society to have someone at this extreme, it gives a degree and pedigree line so to speak on which to contrast and compare ourselves. He says and writes things worth thinking about, if only for the bald faced challenge of them. :)

Edited by one*mom
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Why thank ya kindly, I prefer pink roses :)

 

Love the cat reading...

 

Hadn't heard that Bloom had a nervous breakdown, but not surprised. The literature grad students I've met have seemed very high strung. I figure it's all that criticism. Yes, I do appreciate his knowledge & think there's something to debate, but I prefer to debate starting at a better place :tongue_smilie:

 

Julie

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Hey Julie, you'll get a kick out of this.

 

Today I'm in the presence of a author of some note; and I asked him this question about audio vs. print (along with his thoughts on Bloom and a bunch of other junk)...

 

Anyway, long story short, to illustrate, he said that audio is dangerous stuff sometimes (not a firm "always", but "sometimes") and to drive that point home he told me the following story...

 

Once upon a time, not long ago, there was a collection of people, he was counted among them, at a conference...something like a VIP TED talk thing...

 

They sat around a table discussing theories and debating pedagogy on educational approaches to reading and writing. All around the table were in agreement except one fellow who kept saying over and over..

 

"No, no no..that's not what it means (he didn't illustrate the exact point of contention, but suffice to say it was important).."

 

The fellow in disagreement said, "Look, I know his work, and this is exactly what he said, how could you think it meant anything else than the way I understand it?" He went on to quote passages he "heard" on audio from whatever particular book it was.

 

So the jury sat with one dissenter, and his closest seatmate said, "That's not what it means, you heard it wrong...you misunderstand."

 

The dissenter cried out, "How could any of you possibly know this?"

 

"It's true," says one man, "What they are saying is true."

 

"And you?" says the dissenter, "Where do you come off with this knowledge and fact of it being this way?"

 

"He ought to know," says another..."He's the one that wrote it."

 

--bam

 

So in the recount of this clash; he was basically advising me that there is some merit, but that in the audio versions of some books...the canter/cadence and tonality, the stress sounds, a pace...can cause errors in understanding that reading corrects.

 

???

 

I guess it's half a dozen and six of the other. In his recall and example there was a warning to be cautious.

 

So I'm roller-coaster riding with the idea. I'd thought as of yesterday, "Hallelujah, can't hurt to try" - and then backsliding again after discussing this in person.

 

Do you remember when Steven Hawking first put out his works read on CD? I used to go to sleep listening to them...Universe In A Nutshell...in particular.

 

There was something to it..laying in the dark trying to hear and imagine forever and ever in space; how big it must be. Ouch. Brain ow.

 

I wonder now, if it is a matter (pun intended) of the subject being explored, fiction vs. non fiction and what *type* of listener a person is.

 

Just throwing down another unexplored question on top of the original, which seems tonight, unsolvable. :)

 

Glad you liked the roses.

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Anyway, long story short, to illustrate, he said that audio is dangerous stuff sometimes (not a firm "always", but "sometimes") and to drive that point home he told me the following story...

 

 

Well, that's an anecdotal example but not proof by any means. The next book might have the opposite results, who knows?

 

I think it depends partly on who you are as a learner, and partly on what you want to do with the book.

 

If you are a learner who doesn't "hear" info well, then you probably shouldn't use audiobooks unless you can listen to them over and over, or listen while reading along, or listen while taking notes.

 

That is, *if* you've decided you really want to delve into the book. I don't have time in my life to delve into every book, and have probably 500 books around here that I've started to delve into and never finished. Audiobooks almost always get finished.

 

However, if you're a learner who does well with audios, or gets more done with audios, then I would just ignore everyone else's advice and do what you know works for you. I have to do that with my own learning style. I am a note-taker, and I have had lecturers stop their entire lecture just to tell me that I don't need to take notes. I find a vast majority of lecturers seem to be folks who learn best by listening, and they truly believe that if I'm writing, I can't be "hearing" them. In my case, they are wrong. :) My youngest son is the opposite. He would have done well learning from Socrates - all listening and discussing. (How would your professor think that Homer's listeners ever got what he was saying?! There was nothing in print, and surely the pace didn't suit everyone.)

 

Julie

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Good stuff. Loved the point about Homer.

 

I don't know if you did this when you were a kid, but do you remember the listening stations in school, where you'd listen to a book and could only turn the page when the "ding" sound went off?

 

That would be like a co-reading of a book..and listening to it at the same time...it would kind of pull you along to read, no battling with an unfamiliar word, you'd just hear it and move along...there was no stopping to define it, grab a dictionary or such, just go.

 

I don't think we've ever tried that here. I have no idea what her (daughter) response or retention would be with an audio read along, or just plain audio alone.

 

We don't have Ipods or any other portable cd players. We have smart phones though. The only cd players are on the TV's or the computers...so not portable.

 

Is the majority of audio text out there on CD? That is mostly what I'm seeing when I look.

 

I could probably take the kid down to Barnes this weekend and let her pick something out and get her a whatever kind of cd player for it.

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Could it be that in modern culture and society, that the skills required are so highly technical now, that there simply is not a critical, immediate need for those skills given to us by classics in order to perform with accuracy the profession at the highest levels of competence?

It has nothing to do with modernity, IMO.

There *never was* an immediate need for that type of skills. For most of history, a serious academic study of humanities (and sometimes the only one practiced) was the occupation and the past time of idle minds (read: those with abilities and means to dedicate themselves to it).

Can it be that the society we live in today is experiencing a drought in this area because of the bulls-eye goal of graduate and get on with making a paycheck, rather than a "fault" of universities to establish a well-rounded education?

No, exactly the opposite.

 

Those that are truly good today are hardly worse than those that were truly good in the previous generations. A fragment of people always cares, and there is something "hereditary" about those circles.

What happened is that with the whole thing got "diluted" when it went en masse. Mass education was the end of truly good education on secondary and post-secondary levels, for many complex reasons, so those people are scattered and frustrated in the sea of intellectual mediocrity and pseudo-intellectualism and many even end up leaving formal academia and going back to exclusive private circles because they cannot stand what the academia has become.

 

There were some very rough patches in the previous few generations.

Would we accept a more lengthy time at university which included this discovery and slowed down the process of graduation (along with the price-tag issues) - and perhaps the lack of this study is just a reflection of production and the complex knowledge needed to perform those professions?

No, we would not - because universities are no longer universities, they are corporations, and our whole world operates by that logic. Gone are those days. Even in Europe, where graduation period really was a lot more flexible thing. It is sad.

I don't think the pace is an issue because (1) it's slower than reading to myself, and (2) I have a pause button. There's also (3) the speaker is usually more familiar with the pronunciations and intonations than I am going to be on first read.

It is not that it is more quickly that is a problem. It is that the pace is *forced upon you*, the flow is forced upon you, and an interpretation is forced upon you (the tone of voice, the way of reading, etc.).

 

Reading with eyes is pure abstraction. You and a series of characters, it is ALL up to you and your imagination to bring it alive - to "hear" it, to "see" it, to imagine it and to own it.

Audio-video takes a very precious element away from the process of reading, the one of individual imagination. The two are nowhere near same.

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(How would your professor think that Homer's listeners ever got what he was saying?! There was nothing in print, and surely the pace didn't suit everyone.)

"Homer" is a matrix of orality in Greek literature and culture, VERY obvious as such in the original language in its repetitive aspects, easy to get into the flow of it (metrically too) and learnt by heart (as presumably it was done). Furthermore, there is no clear authorship there, but a presumed organic growth of the material in the realm of people.

 

Comparing an experience of listening in our culture and in the oral culture is apples and oranges. "Getting Homer" is another problematic concept - we are working on "getting it" today, but presumably for the people of that time it was a living culture, a part of cultural praxis. "Pace" has nothing to do with anything here, in that context - but in ours, it sure does, because we relate to it differently, and it does in all of the latter written culture literature.

Edited by Ester Maria
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I have no idea what her (daughter) response or retention would be with an audio read along, or just plain audio alone.

...

Is the majority of audio text out there on CD? That is mostly what I'm seeing when I look.

Your dd doesn't *have* to use audio, if she's not having any problem with reading. I just originally disagreed with the idea that audio cannot be an option.

 

I get audios from lots of sources. Some are online for free, some we "check out" from our library and download (have no idea how that works), some we check out on CD. If I'm purchasing, I like LibraryAndEd.com and I've purchased CDs from Stobaugh and others at convention. Just be careful that you realize MP3 means you will probably need to listen on your computer, but it will likely be cheaper and fewer CDs to keep track of.

 

 

Reading with eyes is pure abstraction. You and a series of characters, it is ALL up to you and your imagination to bring it alive - to "hear" it, to "see" it, to imagine it and to own it.

Audio-video takes a very precious element away from the process of reading, the one of individual imagination. The two are nowhere near same.

"Homer" is a matrix of orality in Greek literature and culture, VERY obvious as such in the original language in its repetitive aspects, easy to get into the flow of it (metrically too) and learnt by heart (as presumably it was done). Furthermore, there is no clear authorship there, but a presumed organic growth of the material in the realm of people.

 

Comparing an experience of listening in our culture and in the oral culture is apples and oranges. "Getting Homer" is another problematic concept - we are working on "getting it" today, but presumably for the people of that time it was a living culture, a part of cultural praxis. "Pace" has nothing to do with anything here, in that context - but in ours, it sure does, because we relate to it differently, and it does in all of the latter written culture literature.

Ester Maria, learning with the eyeballs and with the ears and even by touch with Braille letters are all ways to be exposed to literature and other information.

 

Presuming that one way is best is just like the lecturers who tell me not to write while they talk because they declare it is impossible to truly listen while writing -- it may be true for some folks but for me it's impossible to truly listen *without* writing; I will smile and say it all sounded nice but have no clue what you just said. I do still use audiobooks as a good way to get a sense of a piece as a whole, and to cover more ground (leaving fewer books in my growing piles of unfinished books). It sounds like the OP is getting dragged down by this, too, so audios might really be helpful to her. Reading too slowly and trying to get every detail out of a text can in itself be a hindrance to full comprehension, according to some of the studies presented in my older dd's speed reading text. Of course, if we're not truly audio learners, then we can follow up audiobooks (at least the ones we decide to delve into) by doing the things I mentioned -- listening over & over, writing or reading while you listen, sometimes I even repeat back what I hear, etc. So I still say that audios are a good option for even the most visual person like me.

 

However, even more important is that not everyone is visual by any means, and if someone is getting dragged down by reading, audiobooks can be a truly excellent option. My son is the opposite of me, and can't truly get a lot out of reading. Of course I have him reading plenty, as a skill-building exercise. But if I truly want him to delve in and learn something, or to really understand something the first time through, then he gets exponentially more out of listening. You can test him easily by asking questions after listening or after reading, and there is no comparison. No amount of denial will change that fact.

 

 

Oh, and yes, I chose not to couch the name Homer within a paragraph of explanation. But my point is that reading printed literature is a fairly new concept in the scheme of things, and yet folks enjoyed listening to and learning from the entire range of human stories and educational material over the centuries, nonetheless.

 

Julie

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Reading with eyes is pure abstraction. You and a series of characters, it is ALL up to you and your imagination to bring it alive - to "hear" it, to "see" it, to imagine it and to own it.

Audio-video takes a very precious element away from the process of reading, the one of individual imagination. The two are nowhere near same.

 

I do not agree with your blanket statement. Some people need help to get to that abstraction in reading with eyes. Nothing wrong with reading aloud, or using audio books to help with that. Or seeing a play on stage.

 

I don't see the big deal on it at all. One of my children had some brain damage around age 2.5-3 and needed to learn how to "reading with her eyes" and learn how to develop imagination. Well performed out loud readings helped her to learn how to do it more on her own.

 

p.s. never heard of this bloom guy. not interested in him after reading this thread.

 

-crystal

Edited by cbollin
typos... phone was ringing.... still is :)
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A mixed bag. Some of his attitudes are refreshing in the climate of intellectual poverty that exists today even in much of academia. Others, not so much, with an eye-rolling potential even.

 

The universities really do disdain the classics.

In most universities you do get cheated out of a good education and there seems to be a loss of a critical majority of "properly" educated people, most people have cheap substitutes for what used to be a proper humanist education.

 

Print is better than audio, and will always top audio-visual material, because it does not dictate pace.

 

Who cares who wrote the Book of Genesis. It is the *text*, not the *context* that one should be interested in from the point of view of literary criticism.

 

Not a fan, but it is very difficult to classify myself as a foe because there is much loud and provocative mediocrity and pseudo-intellectualism out there to be positively negative about and reserve foe feelings for.

So, indifferent, for the most part.

 

I feel a lot like this as well. I agree that universities have tended to become as intellectually bankrupt as public schools - I read today in The Anglican Journal about a priest who just got his doctorate in snowboarding.:glare: So in some ways his criticism is right on to me and I even appreciate the disdain he openly shows for it - because it is just so banal.

 

On the other hand, there is something wrong about the way he throws that disdain around - it seems like he is a kind of a dualist to me, a sort of Gnostic. There is the heavenly intellectual realm, and the lower common realm, and no connection between the two. And that is simply false - they are related, and people manage to find some very profound things in common types of literature and music and so on. I don't think he is a man who would have any appreciation for folk wisdom. And it sometimes seems to me that his way of thinking values not just more profound ideas but puts too much emphasis on more complex ideas. While I tend to think the simple ideas can also be very profound.

 

I'm suspicious myself of the whole who wrote genesis thing - I think that sort of literary analysis has more to do with the flights of fancy of the critic than with the text or the writer, and the fact that he tries to take it so far tends to cement my feeling that he is really more interested in his own navel gazing than anything else.

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I also think that reading has important advantages over the kind of media-learaning that has become common in our culture - which isn't to say there is no place for audio or even video, but they are not the same. At a basic biological level the brain processes them differently. Especially when images are involved. Even reading on the internet tends to be very different than reading a fully worked up and thought out text.

 

As for universities - we've made them into vocational schools. I heard a panel discussion on the CBC about the university and its place in society a while ago - one of the panel members was one of my profs at a small liberal arts college. At one point in response to a question, she said that not all people necessarily want to do the kind of thinking that happens in the university, and that is ok. She was jumped upon by another panel member, a university president at a school that has just really embraced a commercial and technical approach. He didn't even understand what she meant - he thought she was saying some people are not smart enough or the right sort of class and background to attend university - he had no concept that a particular way of thinking is actually the central purpose of the university. It was like he had no knowledge of the history of the university as an institution, unlikely as that seems.

 

We started to go wrong back in the 60's when governments decided it would be good for GDP if more people went to university and they began to put nursing degrees and business degrees and all kinds of other things into the schools. (And IMO it hasn't really been good for those areas of study either.)

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Ester Maria, learning with the eyeballs and with the ears and even by touch with Braille letters are all ways to be exposed to literature and other information.
I do not agree with your blanket statement. Some people need help to get to that abstraction in reading with eyes. Nothing wrong with reading aloud, or using audio books to help with that. Or seeing a play on stage.

The problem is that you are presenting reading exclusively as getting a certain body of information. Reading artistic texts is not the same as reading texts whose primary function is to transform information - the emphasized function of artistic texts is how that information is conveyed, not what information is conveyed. What differs Dostoevsky from a newspaper article containing the exact same pieces of information of "what happened" is the way in which that information is fleshed out and connected. Artistic is not in what, it is in how. Artistic texts / fiction are not read to gather information from them, the way that you would read a science textbook.

 

And here is where it gets tough if your "reading" already includes a piece of "interpretation" - by listening to the work, a LOT of forced pace and interpretation is going on. It is a handicap in the context of the work's autonomy, it is taking a part of that autonomy away. Some people can hardly read without that "compromise" (e.g. those who are blind, but cannot read Braille), that is true - but it does not make it any less of a "compromise", one that is ideally avoided.

 

It is a bit like original vs. translation thing. Translations are limitating in what they can convey, because each translation is automatically an interpretation. In my language, artistic translations are called "versioni" - versions, because they literally are different versions of what is technically the same body of information, but the act of interpretation that is inherent in translating things already changes quite a bit. Are we doomed to use translations? Yes, even if we speak several languages, unless we wish to limit ourselves to a certain body of texts, so we consider that "compromise" a necessary one to learn. But I do not for a second deny that it is a compromise, not an ideal situation, because of an element of interpretation that goes on.

 

The same thing happens when you read aloud a work: you are listening to a layer interpretation on the top of the text. For some people the compromise may be worth it, but it IS a compromise. I am not bashing audiobooks (which I use occasionally too ;)), I am only insisting that it be recognized that something is compromised here and that we are not talking about the exact same thing.

 

Crystal, plays are not the same because "the text" is not the same. Theatre, like music, is two-stage art: plays, like music notation, are HALF of what it is about, NOT the "full text", more like a blueprint - the "full text" already includes an interpretation, somebody putting the blueprint of it alive. But we know it, it is a different kind of art, an art which cannot be accessed without an intermediary of an interpretation to be "full" - we can read the text of a play, of course, but then we are treating it as a one-stage art, not as a two-stage art, just like some people can hear musical notation in their mind without intermediary of an instrument.

Which is why Homer is not an adequate comparison :), because there we have a "blueprint" which is a later innovation - like you say, Julie - but the only authentic thing to access there is that fossilized text. The distance between us and the context of its genesis is too huge to be able to ever access Homer the way the Greeks did access it.

 

Later literature, however, is a written culture, with the affirmation of text as a means to carry it, which can be accessed "on its own terms" as far as the medium is concerned. So why compromise that medium?

 

Another interesting aspect is recitation, which shifts one-stage art (a poem) into a two-stage art (a concrete interpretation of that poem by the one who recites it). It is not the question of what is "better" or "worse" - those are value judgments anyway - but the point is that it is not the *same*, because the latter creates an additional "layer" between you and the work. You may decide that it is worth it and that in that layer itself you see a value (appreciate recitation as its own form of art) - but you are still one step further from the work itself, treating what was "the full text" as a "blueprint" for another form of expression, which is by default already an interpretation.

 

So, in a way, there is a certain "ontological inferiority" (this expression is to be understood very loosely and without any moralist connotations to it :)) of interpretative forms. As such, it can still be an art in and of itself, but it is an intermediary between you and the pure abstraction of the text. (Keeping in mind that literature which was supposed to function as a blueprint rather than full work is a bit of a different situation.)

 

Sorry for the length, this is the shortest version possible to explain what I meant: that it is simply not the same, not two sides of the same coin, because interpretative forms (theatre, recitation, reading aloud, etc.) already add another layer, thus making it a different coin altogether.

 

Which is why some of us are very careful about using interpretative forms for our first encounter with the work. Once you accessed a work through an interpretation, you can never fully "undo" it and something precious is taken away from you, a certain innocence as regards work and an ability to access the *form* of it per se without intermediaries.

Presuming that one way is best is just like the lecturers who tell me not to write while they talk because they declare it is impossible to truly listen while writing -- it may be true for some folks but for me it's impossible to truly listen *without* writing; I will smile and say it all sounded nice but have no clue what you just said.

I agree with you here - but you are talking about listening *for information*. Literature is not accessed primarily for information - nobody reads Dostoevsky to learn certain information, but to see how those ideas are connected and expressed. Every Dostoevsky's work can be retold in a few paragraphs conveyed all the relevant pseudo-factual (because it is a fiction) information in it to get "the full picture". But you do not read Dostoevsky for the same reasons for which you read a scientific text, or a text about Dostoevsky. The point is not in the information. The (pseudo-)information for Dostoevsky is not the *goal* in and of itself, but a *tool*. When you listen to a lecture, the point is in the information. Which is why a documentary need not necessarily be inferior, information-wise, to a textbook. But artistic literature is a whole 'nother beast. I do agree with a lot of what you said, Julie, but I found it important to explain why I believe that you are comparing apples to oranges if you introduce Homer or university lectures. In my mind, there is a whole set of carefully nuanced distinctions between those - not every listening is the same.

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Interesting thoughts, Bluegoat. A few comments / questions if you are interested in talking about it:

On the other hand, there is something wrong about the way he throws that disdain around

Are you talking here about him being wrong from the moral(istic) perspective, in that he disdains, or you find him wrong in a factual sense, as if his distinctions were not drawn very well?

 

My personal ethics allows time and place for disdain - I do not disdain disdain (how was that for a sentence? :lol:), so to speak, and I find that there are certain disdain-worthy phenomena out there. I do not have any problem with other people allowing room for disdain, too, and I find something very dissatisfying about moralism (not imputing it to you, just saying in general) which says that I am supposed to "agree to disagree with respect" or "appreciate even if I dislike" at all times. I find that respect and appreciation are earned, rather than given (past the basic level of respect for another person because they are a person; but that is a different topic, mentioning it here only as a disclaimer). So, in and of itself, I do not have an issue with somebody having a relationship of "the opposite of respect" with some phenomena out there.

 

What I am interested in is whether the distinctions drawn by that person are drawn in a way that makes sense to me. For example, a simplistic distinction between "high culture" and "popular culture" is, although useful in some contexts, often pretty simplistic. There are even works which we classify as high culture today, but which originated in popular culture, or whose elements are drawn from popular culture (e.g. rhyme was originally a "barbaric invention"; much of Romanticism is rooted in popular culture elements synthesised with high culture forms, etc.). In every remotely serious discussion, people must be aware of this, and I assure you that anyone with a good background in literature is very aware that there is much grey here, rather than a black and white opposition - but many people, when they do not have "serious talks with serious colleagues" or when they do not write "serious writings", will oversimplify, just like a person of another profession oversimplifies things for those outside of it when he talks to them.

 

The problem is that this is the field that everyone feels like they "own" too, in spite of a lack of professional education (which *does* make a difference when done well), so a lot of intellectuals are considered "elitist" by people who feel they, too, are qualified to draw those same distinctions because they can access the same texts... but the difference exists. A person of an education comparable to Bloom's disagreeing with him is not the same level of disagreement as somebody with a high school level of literary education disagreeing with Bloom, just like I cannot reasonably argue with my husband about nutrition, because I have common sense (and it can be tricky), and he has biochem and pharma advanced degrees and accesses food and what it is made out of on a whole different level. Another pharmacist may disagree with him, but it is a different level of disagremeent. The HUGE problem with humanities is a notion that many people cherish, and that says that there pretty much are no such distinctions between people who are professionally into it and those who are not. This is a HUGE problem because we have collectively turned it into "everyone's" field, and that reflects on the quality of university education today too, which is shaped by those attitudes, so even less distinctions are being produced, and you get a sort of a vicious cycle, then add the component of "anti-intellectualism" and "anti-elitism" today... a very complex situation. We diluted an entire academic field, and most humanities are suffering the same. But if I get on that soapbox... better not. I am considered "elitist" enough around here, LOL. :D

 

Sometimes it is difficult to tell snobbery backed up by unclear thought and high-brow stupidities from a really distinguished and nuanced education. I do have my personal little opinion on where approximately Bloom fits in the grey field between the two :tongue_smilie:, but I do find that much of it is a really mixed bag.

And it sometimes seems to me that his way of thinking values not just more profound ideas but puts too much emphasis on more complex ideas. While I tend to think the simple ideas can also be very profound.

Interesting thought.

Where do you draw the distinction between the complex and the profound? Can there be something artistically pleasing and something skillful about a carefully arranged complex thought, even if it boils down to the same degree of depth you would find in less skillful writing? Is art about profound wisdom... or about skill? And are there cases of exhibition of skill for its own sake past good taste (e.g. kitsch?)? But where does one draw all of those distinctions? I sometimes still struggle with it, honestly.

I'm suspicious myself of the whole who wrote genesis thing - I think that sort of literary analysis has more to do with the flights of fancy of the critic than with the text or the writer, and the fact that he tries to take it so far tends to cement my feeling that he is really more interested in his own navel gazing than anything else.

Bible is difficult to access from a literary standpoint, IMO. Much, much easier to do it from a religious one, seeing a fundamental value in the text, a religious value, which then makes the trifles of literary analysis somewhat irrelevant. It would probably be easier to be accessed as literature had it not been so burdened by the millennia of being classified otherwise. A serious attempt to access it the way one accesses any literary text is a fairly new one. Some "lenses" are already inherited and difficult to get rid of, the texts from different sources already compiled into one unit with connections between them established, some lines being blurred... Very very difficult. It is difficult to even say what are separate "texts" in some parts of it.

 

I am not sure it makes any sense to discuss who wrote which parts of the Bible, except perhaps on philological and historical grounds - but not on literary grounds. Irrelevant. The text is there, who cares about the context. Some other disciplines deal with the context of texts, but literary analysis deals with the text itself.

As for universities - we've made them into vocational schools. I heard a panel discussion on the CBC about the university and its place in society a while ago - one of the panel members was one of my profs at a small liberal arts college. At one point in response to a question, she said that not all people necessarily want to do the kind of thinking that happens in the university, and that is ok. She was jumped upon by another panel member, a university president at a school that has just really embraced a commercial and technical approach. He didn't even understand what she meant - he thought she was saying some people are not smart enough or the right sort of class and background to attend university - he had no concept that a particular way of thinking is actually the central purpose of the university. It was like he had no knowledge of the history of the university as an institution, unlikely as that seems.

:(

But it does not surprise me AT ALL.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Interesting thoughts, Bluegoat. A few comments / questions if you are interested in talking about it:

 

Are you talking here about him being wrong from the moral(istic) perspective, in that he disdains, or you find him wrong in a factual sense, as if his distinctions were not drawn very well?

 

My personal ethics allows time and place for disdain - I do not disdain disdain (how was that for a sentence? :lol:), so to speak, and I find that there are certain disdain-worthy phenomena out there. I do not have any problem with other people allowing room for disdain, too, and I find something very dissatisfying about moralism (not imputing it to you, just saying in general) which says that I am supposed to "agree to disagree with respect" or "appreciate even if I dislike" at all times. I find that respect and appreciation are earned, rather than given (past the basic level of respect for another person because they are a person; but that is a different topic, mentioning it here only as a disclaimer). So, in and of itself, I do not have an issue with somebody having a relationship of "the opposite of respect" with some phenomena out there.

 

What I am interested in is whether the distinctions drawn by that person are drawn in a way that makes sense to me. For example, a simplistic distinction between "high culture" and "popular culture" is, although useful in some contexts, often pretty simplistic. There are even works which we classify as high culture today, but which originated in popular culture, or whose elements are drawn from popular culture (e.g. rhyme was originally a "barbaric invention"; much of Romanticism is rooted in popular culture elements synthesised with high culture forms, etc.). In every remotely serious discussion, people must be aware of this, and I assure you that anyone with a good background in literature is very aware that there is much grey here, rather than a black and white opposition - but many people, when they do not have "serious talks with serious colleagues" or when they do not write "serious writings", will oversimplify, just like a person of another profession oversimplifies things for those outside of it when he talks to them.

 

The problem is that this is the field that everyone feels like they "own" too, in spite of a lack of professional education (which *does* make a difference when done well), so a lot of intellectuals are considered "elitist" by people who feel they, too, are qualified to draw those same distinctions because they can access the same texts... but the difference exists. A person of an education comparable to Bloom's disagreeing with him is not the same level of disagreement as somebody with a high school level of literary education disagreeing with Bloom, just like I cannot reasonably argue with my husband about nutrition, because I have common sense (and it can be tricky), and he has biochem and pharma advanced degrees and accesses food and what it is made out of on a whole different level. Another pharmacist may disagree with him, but it is a different level of disagremeent. The HUGE problem with humanities is a notion that many people cherish, and that says that there pretty much are no such distinctions between people who are professionally into it and those who are not. This is a HUGE problem because we have collectively turned it into "everyone's" field, and that reflects on the quality of university education today too, which is shaped by those attitudes, so even less distinctions are being produced, and you get a sort of a vicious cycle, then add the component of "anti-intellectualism" and "anti-elitism" today... a very complex situation. We diluted an entire academic field, and most humanities are suffering the same. But if I get on that soapbox... better not. I am considered "elitist" enough around here, LOL. :D

 

Sometimes it is difficult to tell snobbery backed up by unclear thought and high-brow stupidities from a really distinguished and nuanced education. I do have my personal little opinion on where approximately Bloom fits in the grey field between the two :tongue_smilie:, but I do find that much of it is a really mixed bag.

 

Interesting thought.

Where do you draw the distinction between the complex and the profound? Can there be something artistically pleasing and something skillful about a carefully arranged complex thought, even if it boils down to the same degree of depth you would find in less skillful writing? Is art about profound wisdom... or about skill? And are there cases of exhibition of skill for its own sake past good taste (e.g. kitsch?)? But where does one draw all of those distinctions? I sometimes still struggle with it, honestly.

 

Bible is difficult to access from a literary standpoint, IMO. Much, much easier to do it from a religious one, seeing a fundamental value in the text, a religious value, which then makes the trifles of literary analysis somewhat irrelevant. It would probably be easier to be accessed as literature had it not been so burdened by the millennia of being classified otherwise. A serious attempt to access it the way one accesses any literary text is a fairly new one. Some "lenses" are already inherited and difficult to get rid of, the texts from different sources already compiled into one unit with connections between them established, some lines being blurred... Very very difficult. It is difficult to even say what are separate "texts" in some parts of it.

 

I am not sure it makes any sense to discuss who wrote which parts of the Bible, except perhaps on philological and historical grounds - but not on literary grounds. Irrelevant. The text is there, who cares about the context. Some other disciplines deal with the context of texts, but literary analysis deals with the text itself.

 

:(

But it does not surprise me AT ALL.

 

I seemed to miss this post before - it's interesting so I'll answer it now if you are still interested.:)

 

I find it a bit difficult at times to put my finger on what it is about Bloom's level of disdain that bothers me. I also do not disdain disdain, and I've even seen it be an effective teaching tool. And I think I agree with your thoughts about elitism.

 

There was a teaching fellow at my college who was a huge Bloom fan, and I think to some extent I think of him when I interpret Bloom. He was an elitist, in what I can only think of as a rather horrible way - a man who thought that our place in Heaven would be related to our intellectual apprehension of the Divine. It didn't seem to occur to him that as finite beings we all have an equally pale grasp of the infinite, or that the Divine knows us all perfectly (although I suppose if he took the Platonic view maybe it didn't).

 

My experience has been that profound truths can come out of places other than high culture, and sometimes it can even be eloquent. If you talk to people about the things that matter to them, even the most uneducated and seemingly uncultured people can tell you things you didn't know about life and death and God and the world. And I guess I don't really feel like Bloom would actually bother to speak to such people.

 

Complexity - I don't know if I would say complexity is beautiful apart from necessity. I wouldn't say that perfect execution from an artistic standpoint always requires complexity. It seems to me in areas like math or logic or computer programming unnecessary complexity is artistically poor - beauty comes from simplicity and elegance that gets the job done.

 

A complicated or stylish execution can be beautiful in its own way though (though stylish might not mean complicated) - I think what I don't like is when it is gussied up as being more profound than the simple or homely explanation of the same thing. It might be a more effective presentation, and that is part of the talent of the artist, but that is really about our weakness - the weakness of our perceptions. The idea itself, the Platonic form if you will, is the same. And my intuition about Bloom is that he doesn't quite acknowledge that.

 

 

I tend to agree that the kind of treatment Bloom gives to Scripture is not really important. To me it is a matter of what it says about him. That kind of effort always reminds me of the C.S. Lewis essay Fern Seed and Elephants, where he talks a bit about higher criticism approaches and literary analysis of that kind. He says he is inclined to take it with a grain of salt because as a living author it has often been applied to his own books, and has in every case been wrong. I tend to think when people take that type of analysis as far as Bloom tries to and assert those kinds of conclusions, it is a sign of hubris.

 

I think in general it is almost impossible to draw hard lines on these questions - which is why I find myself saying "I feel" and "my intuition is" and so on. But as someone who thinks that there really are profound ideas and books and art, and banal books and ideas and art, there is something about Bloom that really rubs me the wrong way.

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