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Bloom on King: Right, but still Wrong. - Elf M. Sternberg
Bloom on King: Right, but still Wrong.
Harold Bloom, at 73, has gone on record as being America's official curmudgeon of letters. Most famous for The Western Canon, an enormous collection of books one "should" read to be considered literate, Bloom has generated a lot of heat recently with his attack on the National Book Foundation's decision to award this year's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to Letters to Steven King.

This is nothing quite like his attack on J.K. Rowling last year, an assault on the readibility of the Harry Potter series that left many blandly outraged, although few were surprised. Bloom is a man who believes that should be accomplished upright in a straightback chair, top button buttoned. There is no such thing as "easy reading."

Bloom lists Don Delilo, Philip Roth, and Thomas Pynchon as three of the four writers left in America. I've read all three. (The other is Cormac McCarthy, whose work I've never seen.) Every single one is truly a master of his craft, a brilliant writer of note, worthy of close scrutiny and attention. So is Vladimir Nabokov. So is John Clute, who so scrupulously guaranteed that every sentence was unique, each paragraph a glittering diamond cleaned of cliche', that he failed to notice that his plot was as hackneyed and meritless as a monster truck rally.

The Delilo book that Bloom pimps in his anti-King rant is Underworld, which I've read. It, too, is a work of art. I read each chapter in breathless awe at the precision and concision of Delilo's craft, only to end the book with that most awful of all questions, "What was that all about, anyway?" Delilo has characters give tight, lovely expositions that all come down to the same theme: there are some very fucked-up aspects to the human condition. But there are no solutions offered.

Bloom is right that King won't do for the American readership what Nabokov could do: tell a magnificent story magnificently. But these days we have television, and video games, and a zillion other time sinks that once upon a time a man of letters could fill with books. King is in competition with those forms of entertainment, and he still attracts readers despite their hypnotic character. This is more than Delilo or Roth can claim.

Yet Bloom is simply wrong if he believes that there was ever a time when schoolchildren would willingly line up at midnight to get their hands on the latest Kipling novel, or Thurber, or Grahame, or that we could ever mold the minds of students to a point where they would do such in those numbers. Bloom is sorely pining for good old days that simply never have been. And if it were not for King, there would be a great many more man hours spent watching television. I presume that is not what he wishes.

Mindboggling. A water park in Detroit called the police on a three-year-old girl whose mother allowed her to walk around topless. The park officials said that the tot's toplessness could "induce lust in adults."

Y'know, if the park officials thought that, I have to know what was going through their minds. Did any of them experience "lust"? The girl's mother responded correctly: "If there are pedophiles in the park, go harrass them." Park officials were then informed by the cops that both mother and child were within their legal rights and do nothing offensive. Good for the cops.

Current Mood: amused amused
Current Music: Mirai, Take a Chance

6 comments or Leave a comment
From: technoshaman Date: September 24th, 2003 08:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Have to agree with you on King.... if it weren't for him and Rowling, there would be a lot more glass teat suckage... and once we get'em hooked on such relative literary pablum, it's not hard to convert them to such hardcore as Heinlein and Bradbury, and maybe even such exotics as Descartes and Jefferson... aren't we evil? ;)

And for once the cops did something right? Hallelujah.
dakiwiboid From: dakiwiboid Date: September 24th, 2003 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Here's a funny story

About 7 years ago, a woman began riding the Metro train topless. There was a lot of public protest, and our then-police chief, Clarence Harmon (later the mayor) finally held a press conference about her. He pointed out that she was not breaking any St. Louis City ordinances, since she was not engaging in any lewd behavior. He also said that if she lit up a cigarette or began eating or drinking on the train, he'd be prepared to have someone arrest her.
dr_memory From: dr_memory Date: September 24th, 2003 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)


Bloom inspires a strong love/hate reaction in me. I'm all in favor of anyone who's willing to stand up and suggest that literacy and a familiarity with the works that underpin our era is a good thing, but holy god the man is an uptight fussbudget. Yes, Shakespeare pretty much invented our modern language and most of our conception of our own condition, true. But ol' Will was also the Jerry Bruckheimer of his day: the audience at the Globe was largely plebes, proles and peasents, and -- just like Rowling and King -- Shakespeare was there to entertain them and keep them coming back for the next installment. And it's certainly not like will was above dressing up kid's ghost and adventure stories with nods toward the adults in the audience...
nbarnes From: nbarnes Date: September 24th, 2003 10:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Rowling And King Are Gateway Writiers?

I can count the number of Heinlein that I'd agree are better than Rowling on the fingers of one hand.

Having recently given some deep thought to the subject, I'm fairly confidant in saying that Rowling is better than she shows in Harry Potter most of the time. When she gets done with the cycle, I'm hoping her next work ditches the banal fantasic humor that HP is wrapped in and does more with the serious dark fantasy that is becoming more and more evident in the recent HPs.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 25th, 2003 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)
king is a king among authors for me but thats me
i have read the hp books and actually elfs stories are at least as good ;) (im a shameless suck up aint i) but im strange i started reading the odessy and the illiad at 6 and shakespear by 8 then bradbury and authurian fantasy ( you know what i mean swords and sorcery stuff) then classics like beowulf then i moved on to heavy fantasies of peirs anthony. then followed the sci-fi of orson scot card ( enders game was a master peice) i would love to hear what heir butt sniffer thinks of them hehe. i think all children should be atleast exposed to good litterature at a young age my mom used to read me anne of green gables and the hardy boys b4 i even started kindergarden realy im just ranting so you can ignore any thing i have said ;) im not good at editing so :-P

www.WarStoke.com it sucks i know it get over it
mitomi From: mitomi Date: September 25th, 2003 05:25 am (UTC) (Link)

Missing the point.

I don't believe King's or Rowling's ambition is to change the literary world, to write the "Great English/American Novel" or win the accolades of academia. They're storytellers, plain and simple. That Bloom would complain about King's writing just shows that he's completely missing the point.

It's like complaining that the Beatles didn't contribute to classical composition.
6 comments or Leave a comment