In honor of the death of Harold Bloom, I bring back to the internet this open letter I wrote during my first year of graduate school.
Dear Harold Bloom,
I love you. Let’s get married.
But: what about this?, my reader enjoins. And it’s true, Harold Bloom. I think you are a lunatic. I think you are straight-up crazy nuts. Also, you are approximately one million years old, and I am twenty-six. But I do not want to marry you just to make myself Mollie Bloom (which is not to say that wouldn’t be a really compelling side benefit). I respect your lunacy, and I love you anyway. I love you for your lunacy. I love that every paper I write about anything to do with canon (which is a good proportion of all the papers I write, given that it’s kind of a thing with me) provides me the opportunity to come across some new nutty remark of yours. And Harold Bloom, I love your nutty remarks.
Like this: “If aesthetic merit were ever again to center the canon Finnegans Wake would be as close as our chaos could come to the heights of Shakespeare and Dante.”
You said this in The Western Canon, Harold, and Penguin liked it so much they slapped it on the back of their edition of the Wake. Do you know why? Because no one else has ever said anything of the kind, because it is crazy. (Forgive my italics, Harold; I’m underslept and overenthusiastic.) It is a whole symphony of crazy. It is variations on the theme of crazy. It is crazy because it imagines some golden age of aesthetic purity long departed. It is crazy because you still really think Shakespeare is God (actual, literal God—Dante and Joyce can maybe fight it out for Jesus, but Shakespeare is the inventor of the human). It is crazy because if you got everyone who’s ever read both to line up in the schoolyard (and it really wouldn’t need to be a big one) and run either to the side marked Ulysses or the side marked Finnegans Wake I am pretty sure you would be standing alone. You don’t have to stand alone anymore, Harold. (I mean this metaphorically: I am all but positive that I would be on the Ulysses side, too, if I ever got around to hacking through Finnegans Wake. But think of the fights we could have about this in your mahogany-paneled study.)
Harold Bloom, you might think I am being flippant, just because I put in a footnote about how you take so much pleasure in tweaking the nose of the common reader that your exception can be considered to prove the rule. I am not. I am being absolutely genuine. I think there is something valiant in your denial of materialism, of the world as it is and always has been. The promise of a better world is an appealing one, Harold, even if that promise comes in the form of a eulogy for something that never was. I will believe in Philistines with you, Harold; I will believe in Kulturkampf. The Ragnarok of art. These are the end times, Harold; let’s spend them together.
Also, Harold Bloom, allow me to be crass (I bet you don’t mind that): I am pretty sure that I would get a tenure-track job out of our marriage. And—perhaps you have not heard—those are hard to come by these days. What with the ranks of the very senior professoriate soldiering on and all.
What do you say? I will read Ulysses out loud to you as you grow slowly blind and deaf (but O, Harold, never dumb). I will read you the Romantics (not the lady ones). We can negotiate on Finnegans Wake in the pre-nup. So long as you never run out of crazy, I will make sure you never run out of cognac. If you were to shuffle off this mortal coil at the advanced and dignified age of one hundred, Harold, I would only be forty-six. You will never see me mottled and wattled. That has the whiff of immortality about it, doesn’t it? I think we will be very happy together. So I think there can, Harold Bloom, be only one response to this (modest) proposal:
yes I said yes I will Yes
With love (obviously),
P.S. Harold Bloom, I reserve the right to take all this back as soon as I get my first full night’s sleep in a week and some distance on this paper on Ulysses. But for now, I am stone-cold serious. Move quickly.