Possessed by Memory — In Praise of Harold Bloom

I pre-ordered Harold Bloom's latest book, Possessed by Memory: The Inward Light of Criticism, months ago and had completely forgotten it was coming out today. Thanks to a quick email, I realized it was now waiting for me on my Kindle bookshelf. I can't overstate how excited I am to finally read this.

Bloom is one of those special writers with whom I've found a deep affinity. In a very real way, literary criticism is indeed his religion, and the ground of his uniquely gnostic and Yahwistic spirituality, about which I’ve written here—and which I've also felt influence my own spirituality deeply. However, it's his method of deep reading, I think, that has influenced me most deeply: his capacity to read a text without provincialism, instead seeking to mine what the text says about the author's self, and, by extension, our own shared Self.

The book's epigraph sums this up nicely:

“That is what the highest criticism really is, the record of one’s own soul. It is more fascinating than history, as it is concerned simply with oneself. It is more delightful than philosophy, as its subject is concrete and not abstract, real and not vague. It is the only civilised form of autobiography, as it deals not with the events, but with the thoughts of one’s life; not with life’s physical accidents of deed or circumstance, but with the spiritual moods and imaginative passions of the mind.”

—Oscar Wilde, “The Critic As Artist,” Intentions (1891)

A survey of Possessed by Memory's table of contents will take one through the Hebrew Bible and Kabbalistic poetry, to Shakespeare, and on to the European and North American poets of the 19th and 20th centuries, all in Bloom's attempt to articulate his own self—his own deep reading, as it were, and perhaps our own—to the reader. Rather than limit himself to ostensibly "religious" literature, Bloom breaks into his native genius in Shakespeare and subsequent poets; and rather than alienate spiritual literature, he instead invites even scripture to have a seat at the table of our world's (read: humanity's) literature in an attempt to excavate our own individual souls, as well as our collective Soul.

Bloom has taught me how to not only read literature more meaningfully, but to extend that method to the scriptures with which I was raised—the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, as well as Joseph Smith and his successors myriad other productions—without privileging trite interpretations or pigeonholing myself to religious commitments which may otherwise suffocate life from the text. Moreover, he's given me a way of coming to truly find value in the scriptures and stories of others, as well.

Nowadays, literacy rates are at their highest in the developed world, but we are far from what might be called a literary culture; the higher our literacy rates rose, the further our literary spirit seemed to fall. That's the world that taught me how to read—but Harold Bloom taught me to read deeply.


Image: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash