Rooting Out Bloom 2: The Western Canon
OBSERVATIONS UPON READING WSWBF
There’s a German expression, "Die Mutter", which is fermented dough that is used as sourdough bread starter. You take a bit of Die Mutter, add it to your regular dough and with time and treatment, you have yummy sourdough bread. But, you must store DM carefully, adding dough to it to keep it going. And so you always have some with which to enrich future bread loaves. Biblical writing is sort of like Die Mutter. The Bible, in full respect, is like the "Die Mutter" of Western literature. Pervading, inspiring, enriching, immortalizing.
And that’s just the first chapter!
Think about the classics of literature you’ve had to read in college and high school and what not. Threads of Biblical wisdom, especially OT references, thread finely and intricately through the works of European authors, yet draw attention to themselves by majestic King James syntax, or appearing in their original language (the italics immediately drawing the eye and signaling that this is important), or invoking the Bible as a sort of muse, or, more simply, extolling Biblical virtues. (Notice I did not say Christian — for the simple reason that The Bible is a compendium of both Christian and Hebrew wisdom. And where literature is concerned, it’s not unusual for them to overlap.)
I especially enjoyed the chapter on Cervantes and Shakespeare. Firstly, what a great combination to compare/contrast. It was a delight to feel someone as accomplished as Bloom in awe of Cervantes and his two most famous characters. As a writing teacher, I can tell when my students genuinely like their topic. Their writing style shows more care, more detail, and they are willing to take more chances with style. Writing about something you love vs something you don’t give a tinker’s toss about is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. (I think Mark Twain said that. If he didn’t, he should have.)
I’ve never been one of those tiresome, pointlessly anarchic fools who think Shakespeare didn’t write his plays. He wrote them. Live with it already. This bit in particular resonated in my mind — like when you are searching for the last word in the crossword puzzle, and it hits you just as you’re ready to give up: You cannot locate Shakespeare in his own works, not even in the Sonnets. It is this near-invisibility that encourages the zealots who believe that almost anyone wrote Shakespeare except Shakespeare himself. I wonder if that’s a skill that ever comes up in Shakespeare courses.
Also in the book is the de rigeur inclusion of Greeks — Plato and Homer. The uber-Euros Montaigne, Francis Bacon, Johnson, Goethe, Nietzsche (being paired with Ralph Waldo. How piquant. Bloom calls him "our American Goethe. So why not put him in the Goethe chapter? I’ll have to re-read those sections.), Freud (there’s that tingly feeling in the naughty bits again), the Gospel of Thomas, and St. Augustine (excellent choice; should have been given a more prominent place in the book)
Oddly enough, there’s no Romans. No Cicero, no Seneca, no Marcus Aurelius, no Ovid. Some explanation on that gap would have been nice.