How to Read Literature and Why: Short Stories, Poems, Novels and Plays (2000)

How to Read Literature and Why: Short Stories, Poems, Novels and Plays (2000)

professor Harold Bloom can you remember the first time you ever read oh yes that was or 70 years ago in an all year to speak the household in the old East Bronx and I taught myself to read Yiddish when I was about three Hebrew when I was about four and English when I was about five and I read incessantly from the time I was three years old in fact I am a lifelong addict get any sense of why you started reading so young I've spent years thinking about it on and off I was the fifth child much the youngest blast in another poor family my father was a garment worker my mother a housewife he had been born in Odessa xi'an – death along since wiped out by the Nazis their breasts let's ask nobody else in the family red and I don't know I didn't think I was a changeling or anything i I loved and was loved by my siblings and my parents but I something I knew was very lonely something in me felt well I think is the deep pleasure that solitary reading only could bring and so I began to read incessantly there must be some genetic factor in this I mean eventually I tried to trace back you know when could be am a proletarian family ultimately if East European Jewish peasant stock and still have Talmud ists and Kabbalists in the family tray and indeed when I looked they were there so I'm probably a throwback if we saw you in your situation where you were the happiest reading where would that be at home in a huge old house in New Haven where my wife and I have lived for more than 40 years in a large nurse chair that I've worn out so many times I don't know how this fourth or the fifth and I collapsed my force taffy and bulk into it and usually with six or seven books and I I read through them with great Custer what's the longest you've ever sat and read a chair when I was younger I could sit there for some time until my wife would rouse me out and say this is bad for you go for at least a walk around the block or get off the exercise back which is what she says these days sometimes when I'm writing a book um except for obvious needs it– or being summoned to dinner I stay in that chair or I move to the dining room table because I can't be the right woman by myself there's a huge study on the third floor and indeed the house has some 50,000 books in it there are two large offices at yeah which between them must have 30,000 more and an apartment in New York with another 15,000 but I I don't like to be where the books are like to be where my wife is or somebody else is perhaps one of my sons and I like to just know that somebody is out there while I read or write I mean the activity is solitary reading and writing but one doesn't want to be completely lovely do you ever read nonfiction oh I read everything and anything I'm a desperate reader if I can find anything else my wife is like to define me obsessively rereading cereal box tops in the morning and the books flow in all the time solicited and unsolicited manuscripts and proof copies and everything under the Sun indeed one of my jokes is that as some of my old friends with whom I attended the Bronx High School of Science and who are fierce believers in the humanoid future of computers if indeed artificial intelligence so developed that the computers do develop personalities and creative abilities of their own one of my favorite sad jokes is that I expect before I died to be bombarded by the epics and romances of artificial intelligence though I don't expect them to be a very high quality how long have you been at Yale I got there as a graduate student in the autumn of 1950s I've been there half a century I've been full-time teaching on the faculty for 46 years now and I have doubled as big professor of English in the NYU graduate school this last 13 years I thank you both I have a great deal of teaching energy as I have a great deal of reading and writing energy otherwise I'm a pretty tired old monster how often do you go to the classroom how many times do you teach a semester I generate five terms out of six at Yale I give two seminars usually one graduate and one undergraduate that some terms both undergraduate I always teach Wednesday or Thursday from 1:30 to 3:30 but because I'm obsessive about getting to a classroom or anywhere else on time I usually show up an hour and a half before the class and tell the students I hate to sit in an office by myself I shut my offices except when I have to find a book I tell the students to bring their lunch and will hold office hours there what do you think this thing is about always wanting to be with other people well I was never loved will there was a child we were a family of seven crowded into four rooms there weren't large rooms and certainly before I got married I was very solitary I don't know I don't think it's the fear of mortality I really fiercely as I say in the book you're holding that one of the major reasons why we do read and should read it because we cannot possibly know enough people or know them closely enough and I suppose I suppose if I have been married for 42 years and have known the lady for 44 years and she is the best company there is I I suppose something in me is unappeased than Peregrine as mr. Elliot says in one of his poems strange person for me to quote is he's not one of my favorite writers I suppose my spirit there's always somehow looking for something but that's that's that's what being a reader is about I would think that's what I am primarily I mean of a professional teacher I'm a professional literary critic a very old-fashioned one I now call myself at times partly in self deprecation but partly I suppose with a certain fury balloon brontosaurus by da litter that is to say not only a worshipper of Shakespeare but a brontosaurus a dinosaur I've never learned how to type I still write everything all day long with it black Pentel rolling right a ballpoint pen on a clipboard that an engineering student gave me as a gift back at Cornell in 1946 when I was a freshman and always on long yellow legal pads so I had something of a dinosaur I've stopped using the old library I said research assistants there I cried when they switched from the card catalogue so many years ago to a computer because I can't handle a computer and something in me though I'm not a Luddite resist learning I just I just don't want to do it what are your students telling you when they come to class and what are you seeing in the students that might have changed because of cyberspace I think that the oil students though and I've known them for 46 years as students I think they're intellectually at least as gifted as they ever were but there is a difference about the very most intensely literary among them simply have read a lot less both on their own and in school before they come to yell and say 20 years ago and I think that has something to do with the screen I mean as I remarked at the beginning of this book and as I oh I I tried to avoid polemic in this book as much as possible if only because I am weary of polemic from my opponents do seem to be judging by the reviews of this book we haven't read but I've been told about us I don't want to read them um there are two enemies of reading now in the world not just in the english-speaking world one and I think it's relatively minor even though it's very annoying and that has been the destruction the lunatic destruction of literary studies at least from my perspective and its replacement by what is called cultural studies in all of the universities and colleges in the english-speaking world and everyone knows what that phenomenon is I mean we we now we rephrase political correctness remains a perfectly good descriptive phrase for what has gone on and is the last still going on almost everywhere and which dominates I would say rather more than three fifths of the tenured faculties in the english-speaking world where did you represent a treason of the intellectuals I think a betrayal of the clerk's but they will pass away their time was already going by they are already one reason why they are getting nastier than ever particularly towards an or dinosaur like me is simply because they've lost their clientele the students the undergraduate students flee them on every side and indeed there is declining enrollment in what used to be the English departments of the Western world and why shouldn't there be because I don't think at Yale American Studies for instance which is the one department at Yale where real adulteration has taken place otherwise on the whole Yale remains almost not quite a citadel in literary and humanistic studies certainly compared to almost any place else and I know because I've been around the other places too certainly in American Studies they never read anymore they never read American literature they don't know who Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson or Henry James are they they study Coney Island they study Batman comics they study the pianist Madonna they studied warm in theme parks this is what people do in cultural studies but this this will pass these people alas will be with us for a while partly because of something that I seem to be a voice in the wilderness in speaking out against I don't think this is just sour grapes on my part as I approach my 70th birthday I think that academic tenure is an archaic and malicious institution and I think it should be abolished everywhere it was meant to protect freedom of thought and expression from university administrations or outward public and societal or even congressional precious but that isn't the way it has worked it has worked so as to employs a kind of massive conformity in American colleges and universities and indeed by now in secondary schools as well I would like to see it abolished though I have very little hope that it will be in my lifetime even though it should go um this is minor the the it will pass I may pass with it being old but the more massive danger is obviously the screen and not so much the e-book I recently went through my one ebook experience the New York styles section sent me a youlet packet handheld computer on which mr. gates and company had downloaded I would say a 50th Rae thriller by the overrated mr. Michael Crichton called timeline and by pressing a button I was able to read through this I found it not a good experience whether in terms of the quality of what I was reading or the ghastly procedure that I was following I I don't think that the e-book is going to destroy the printed Marcus Semien affair but the internet which I acknowledge is an economic and commercial necessity the Internet's and many people disagree with me on this I know the internet I think is a terrible danger to the life of the mind it's a terrible danger to real reading because it's a kind of great gray ocean in which everything merges with everything else and extremely difficult it is extremely difficult for a young person to establish standards of reading or to find again what could be called intellectual and aesthetic standards of judgment in relation to what is available on it there is no guidance there is if I may use a word now so much despised there is no intellectual Authority involved in it it's it doesn't seem to me a good mode of teaching even as an instrument even as at all because something about its very nature defeats I think we're teaching ought to be is that a teacher at a place like you know what other teachers are teaching how do you find out I mean you ever go to their classes though unless I'm invited to it would be an intrusion of their privacy though they're perfectly free to come to mind and people are always coming though not necessarily people from Yale people from abroad or from around the country I don't care who comes but I go around a great deal I'm not sure I mean not only on book tours but also lecturing or doing sometimes a week at a time with other universities though I have had some recent bad experiences with that and I have now determined to take myself off the road in terms of other universities what made it bad by the way a couple of years ago I remember this with whether this was two or three years ago I did a week at Stanford University a university which has gone through a good deal of political correctness in the week I spent there the only hour and a half that I enjoyed was when they then splendid Provost there Condoleezza Rice phoned me and asked me to come see her and we had a very illuminating mutual talk for an hour and a half we are not in Political Agreement to you what you are looking at an old mind voter for Norman Thomas and I will hold my nose and vote for Albert Gore as I did for Clinton unlike miss rice I do not support the bushes but um culturally I found that miss rice and I were in agreement I found my time at Stanford extremely stormy and distressing I gave a public lecture which and modified and modified form is now the introduction called the way we read now the prologue to this book but I said things in it that aren't said here which infuriated the audience so that like one well I said that you know pardon my saying this in your viewers will pardon my saying this I said that if you were to purchase a desk or a table from a carpenter and the legs fell off though you had paid for it and it was not usable as a table or a desk even if it had been created by a person of a particular multi-ethnic group or a particular sexual orientation or of a particular pigmentation or what none of you want to call these these things I I still hold with EMM Forster who in a Passage to India wisely said what does this nuts is about being white we should call ourselves pink Oh gray because that's our actual complexion I'm very wary of all this stuff ah but I said to them if the legs fell off would you not demand a rebate and it wouldn't do any good to be told that this was I don't want to go into individual nationalities or ethnic groups or you know the whole range of it wouldn't do it you know you would still no matter who you guys said to the audience you would demand your money back in which they saw where I was heading and they started to boo me I said well I think think about what I'm saying you know ah you insist that your table be well made you insist that your desk function if you will being wheeled in for a brain operation and you were told that the brain surgeon had been chosen on the basis of fairness on the basis of universalism on the basis of multiculturalism you would jump right off the operating table we do not enforce these things in the medical schools we do not require these quotas and departments of mathematics or nuclear physics and I said to the audience that shows you a profound contempt for humanistic study it shows you a profound contempt for literature and for canonical literature that you think it does not matter that you can have an absolutely mediocre piece of work you know where the legs fall off in a poem or a play or a novel it does not matter to you at all you only care about the origin of it this caused about half the audience to get very furious with me indeed but it seems to me I am only telling the truth then there was a symposium the next day in which the faculty members on it include including the one countercultural list imported from Berkeley to rough me up and I just sat there and listen to them abused me and misrepresent me and when it came writer and I said you know I'm getting a little old we're gonna take a five-minute break and I invite the audience to stay behind but everybody on this platform let's go because I've heard only ignorance and abusiveness I will not talk to them I I will entertain questions from the group but my entire visit at Stanford was like that even at the president's dinner table I found it an absolute embattled time and I suppose that as the phenomenon that I'm also encountering in the reviews of this book including both reviews in that countercultural American newspaper which is now of course that always has been our establishment newspaper the New York Times the New York Times has lost all of its standards so far as I can see both intellectual and aesthetic if I make more enemies among them that will delight me they cannot they cannot be worse than they are already there are a few people who could still read and think and write who can be found in The Times but the New York Times magazine is now indistinguishable from the Soho News it's preposterous and a turd is edited by the former editor of the sir holders and he's been very successful in getting lots of advertisements so doubtless he will be there forever but I cannot imagine that that a reader of any intellectual interests whatsoever that an intelligent reader should want to read the New York Times magazine or should want to read what passes for the book reviews in that absurd New York Times Sunday book review which I want certainly never write a review for again I'll have nothing to do with them they they have become broadly countercultural was only two or three years ago that I read one of their rock critics who I will not name him making a very serious comparison he was not being ironical in which he compared the glyph formerly known as Prince to the young Mozart saying that they were absolutely equivalent in genius and that was only our absurd reactionary cultural prejudices that kept us from seeing this that is the New York Times that is that is the way we live now that is the way we read now because they also can't parse their ungrammatical they misspell they misuse words Arthur they were preposterous Lee what caused this in your opinion for 33 years now and I don't wish to be confused with my late acquaintance Alan bloom and I am NOT a conservative far from it politically speaking not even culturally um but from 1967 until the present for one-third of a century we have had the gradual triumph of the counterculture in the United States and not just in the United States and the entire english-speaking world and to a somewhat lesser extent in the rest of both the Western and indeed by now the eastern world questions of taste and judgment now seem to rely entirely upon information and not at all upon what I would call learning or wisdom this can be deplored but it is not going to change or pass indeed where has this not seeped by now about two years ago the old British Museum reading room was transformed into what is now called the British Library I received a phone call from the gentlemen who was the incoming head of this institution who told me over the long-distance firm that they were inaugurating their new existence with a week-long celebration called an age of information I said why are you calling me sir he said well we only want you there for the last day Friday after tea time when you and two other gentlemen will have a panel discussion on what it means culturally to have entered the age of information I said you don't want me as a listen we do want you he said there will be sir so-and-so and Lord so-and-so I said I don't know who they are it got rather offended and explained to me in other hurt tones that sir so-and-so was the leading British authority on information retrieval I told him honestly in the still true I did not know an information retrieval was and I did not wish to find out but I still don't know what it is I said who was the other gentleman and that he said quite coldly he is our leading authority on software I said I've never learned to type I learned all show what software is he said it doesn't matter he said in any case professor bloom you ought to come you will represent the book I said this is ridiculous I said you're going to ask me to have a discussion with an authority on something called information retrieval and an authority on software and I wretched creature I'm supposed to represent the book I am highly inadequate to replace the book anybody would be and I won't not come goodbye sir but uh that is the British Library I think the Library of Congress where I believe I speak today in the Mumford room uh has not gone quite that far at least I hope not I'm not that much in Washington these days but um he's these cracks and which have deeply wounded our universities and colleges and which have I think destroyed for cultural purposes a great institution like the New York Times um I think they upgrade now in the great public libraries also I've been speaking at a great many public libraries across the country and I asked them about their book collections I asked them whether they are maintaining themselves as circulation librarians and they disheartened me by telling me all too often that they're only open three days a week and all too often they tell me that they now concentrate entirely upon providing computer services breaks what is left to my heart because um I would have been nowhere in this life without the various branches of the New York Public Library when I was growing up I I started reading at the Melrose branch of the Bronx Public Library when I was still so small I couldn't carry the books home my three sisters much older kinda carried them for me and I went from the Melrose branch of the public library after I read through it to the Fordham branch of the Bronx library which is its research branch and I used that up and I descended at fifteen clutching my nickels in my hand for the subway to the 42nd Street library determined to read through that in the main reading room and of course I would never have succeeded but soon enough I was a Cornell undergraduate having won a fellowship and spent four years trying to read out that library and for the last 46 years have been trying to read out the Yale library which no human being can read through so I've done what I could but it does it worries me deeply what is happening to our public libraries to our library systems in general they used to receive much more government funding than they receive no and I do not hear anyone in either party running for office this not talking about public libraries except two out of the Shibboleth more and better computers you know one computer per child you go back to what you said if you don't mind at Yale and your politics versus the other professors what would you say that you know the political what's I don't think it is a forgive me for interrupting your breath I don't think it's a political question you know I'm tired of being tired I I I've been voting for Democrats for president or for socialists what I could find them for let's see I started when I was 18 ah I mean here I've been voting for 52 years and I've never voted for a Republican for dog catcher and I wouldn't start now I forgive all the Republicans out there or let them forgive me I'm not a conservative I'm anything but a conservative I think that the United States has been almost destroyed by Ronald Reagan and his legacy he came into office that charming smiling fellow and he assured us we could all emancipate our selfishness and that is what we have proceeded to do on a national level and I think we have done terrible things to the poor of people in this country and mr. Clinton whom I voted for twice nevertheless signed the welfare bill and put five million more children under the poverty line let it be said in his defense that I gather he has done everything he could to partly make up for this you know as best he could but still I am not happy with him no I I don't think this is a political difference I don't even think this is a cultural difference because I don't think they can be cultural differences in that sense it's an intellectual difference and an aesthetic difference and that I hate to use the term because it can so easily be misconstrued in a religion mad country like the United States it ultimately has to be a spiritual difference either you believe that reading and teaching and thinking about the best that has been thought and written and said matters and does everyone a great deal of good or you do not and most of these people know universities and certainly these people in the media and the New York Times don't believe that at all either you believe that you know what is it got to do with politics Leon Trotsky it was a great the murderous human being but a remarkable writer and his own way a remarkable literary critic he wrote quite a book called literature and revolution which I frequently cite against the politically correct in the school of resentment because in and he addresses himself to the revolutionary or Marxist writer and he says take Dante for your textbook and he has quite right indeed whatever your politics are whatever your aspirations are take Dante for your textbook take Shakespeare for your textbook take Cervantes or Chaucer or Homer or indeed the Bible not as fundamentalist read it but as we ought to read it take indeed the best that has been written for your textbook and educate yourself from it I begin this book by saying information is readily available to us were shall wisdom be found and the answer it is to be formed where it was always to be found in in the greatest minds and the greatest writers and they are usually the same the same you know it is to be found in Shakespeare and Milton and it's to be found in William Blake it is to be found in Dante and is to be found in Cervantes I wouldn't mind so-called multiculturalism at all if say for Hispanic purposes they were to replace Shakespeare even by Cervantes I would say find I have no quarrel with this servantes ism almost equal Eminence the Cody and the other writings of Cervantes also touch the limits of human art and of human thought if you wish Hispanic multiculturalism let them read servantes but let them not read mediocrity let them not read bad writing let them not read ill thought matters simply because they are written by contemporary members of a particular as we call it ethnic group to balkanize the study of literature deal the study of all the arts as we have now done in the universities and the colleges is fatal it will not make us a better country it will make us a worse country it will finally balkanize us as a nation and we have enough troubles without that you write a lot about Cormac MacCarthy is contemporary one book in particular a very great book they're glad to bring it off Ryan Oh a book called blood meridian which I write about at some length at one point in this book many of McCarthy's novels are remarkable including all the pretty horses the first volume of the border trilogy I don't think the second or third volumes are quite as far as some of his earlier novels like sorry the very fault Marian somewhat derivative that's the remarkable books but he has written one masterpiece ah which I would say is I mean of contemporary American fiction of fiction written by human beings still alive and among us I would list Philip Roth's Sabbath theater and American pastor oh I would list Don DeLillo's underworld I would certainly list Thomas Pynchon's the crying of lot 49 and gravity's rainbow in his recent and magnificent Mason and Dixon and if I had to vote for one novel by a living American it would be blood meridian which is a fearsome story than a terrible parable and which I think has a deep implicit warning for current American society I mean our gun crazy country where Charlton Heston appears endlessly on television and amazes me he angrily says President Clinton why'd you talk of running to children shall hero there and you don't talk about the the tens the perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars that the NRA is spending to educate young people how to properly handle guns I cannot believe the madness of what I am hearing but it is all straight out of blood Veridian because blood meridian is the ultimate Western it is a historically closely based account of a terrifying scalping expedition organized by Mexican and Texan authorities in 18-49 fifty to simply wipe out all of the southwestern Native Americans in order to clear the way to the gold fields and the Glanton gang an extraordinary group of free Buddha's or filibusters have with them as their spiritual leader a frightening manifestation a Mel villian a kind of human Moby Dick Judge Holden who is a vast albino fellow as round as I am but seven foot tall and who has all languages all knowledge –is and who preaches endlessly in the theology of violence and war and who is still alive and dancing and fiddling and proclaiming that he will never die at the end of the book and indeed he has never died he is responsible for those horrible pussies we have out there in Idaho he is responsible for those people who blow up the Federal Building he is responsible for these mad people who break into schools and shoot children it is we we are a country that has had a kind of Perpetual ongoing religious revival since the Year 1800 and simultaneously we have been completely gun-crazy for the last two centuries and in some sense that's what McCarthy's great book is about how many times have you read blood meridian oh i teach it steadily and of course called how to read and why so i must have read it by now since I reread everything I really care for twenty or thirty times probably I haven't memorized by now but it's fascinating to me that you asked that because the first two times that I read it I could not read it and I admit this to my students and I admit that in this book I broke down I don't know what after 15 or 20 pages the first time and after seven to 80 pages the second because the sheer carnage of it though it is intensely stylized is nevertheless overwhelming it's it's it's it's shocking it's it's horrifying and it takes a very strong stomach but if you break through it if you if you read your way into the cosmos of the book then you are rewarded you get an extraordinary landscape you get an extraordinary visionary intensity of personality and character you get a great vision a frightening vision of what is indeed something very deeply embedded in the American spirits in the American psyche and the more you read the book I find the more you will be able to read the book it is it's as close I think to being the American prose epic as one can find more perhaps even than Faulkner though there are individual books by falter like As I Lay Dying which perhaps have even higher aesthetic quality and originality than blood meridian but i think you would have to go back to moby dick for an american epic that fully compares to blood meridian when you read do you make notes though though i have that too was inherited no doubt I have a scandalous memory oh I remember what I read indeed if it is poetry and if I fall in love with it if it seems to me inevitably phrase then I simply remember it and hold on to it forever and indeed in this book I urge memorization I must be the last professor of literature in the United States who occasionally will say to a very good class for next week read Tennyson's Ulysses don't learn it by rote but read it out loud when you're alone with yourself read it again and again brood on what it means possessed by memory and come in and you know as we talk about it to one another let us recite it to one another and indeed tonight at the Mumford room I intend to recite Tennyson's Ulysses and to talk about it partly to read what I have to say about it in the book memorizing went out of fashion in American education because it had been brutalized it had been debased into just repetition by rote but I think it is not only a legitimate but a crucial mode of teaching and always has been in all the great religious traditions and the great secular traditions of humanistic learning also I would go even a little further you cannot think you cannot be cognitively acute without memory remembering is absolutely essential to thinking and if you don't read and read deeply and if you don't possess whether you memorize it or not if you don't powerfully and deeply possess very strong works of literature and thoughts indeed then you were impoverished you are thinking and if we impoverish our thinking if it becomes any more adulterated that it has already in the last third of the century now that would fear for what is after all most precious about this country we defend individual rights as the recent vote of the Supreme Court 72-hour Miranda shows we we care passionately about them they are built into our Constitution but I would fear for the political future of democracy in this large and varied country if we really do stop reading deeply and holding on to what we read if we stop reading the best that has been written because then I think we will not think as clearly or as well and we will be subject to demagoguery I find it powerfully offensive that one of the two major presidential candidates is perhaps the least distinguished graduate in the entire history of Yale University and I've taught there for 46 years though I never taught this gentleman but he has boasted to the press at least until his people told him to talk differently about it but he began by boasting to the press that he had never read a book through since he left yeah and indeed he laughed he hadn't read many through there and of course I believed him and I see columns or I see very dubious historians like mr. Michael Beschloss another instance of the media proclaiming that it doesn't matter whether presidents read or not I think it matters a great deal if you want to see an instance of American cultural and political decline think that the last time we had a father and a son be presidents of the United States it was no less than John Adams and John Quincy Adams and I read them both at length I have read what they have written including their letters they were men of enormous intellect and humane culture obviously the father-son combination and we may well make our next father-and-son presidential duel are a long way from John Adams and John Quincy Adams that I think is not a matter to scuff about or utter placebos about I think that is a terrible instance of cultural loss and it is something that we will pay for politically inevitably and finally who knows how great the price will be your comment about that you say Michael Beschloss dubious historian I find him a very dubious history yes I find him another time service perhaps I'm being libelous I don't know but I saw a piece by him and that wretched New York Times in which he said why why should we make a fuss about whether or not a particular president or presidential candidate has done any deep reading at all it's he said it's not at all essential for a president they might be much better presidents for not having read at all I I find that disgusting what do you mean by time server serving the time trimming your coat going with the cultural wind saying what will please the many whether or not it is true do you find yourself isolated at Yale at Yale yeah with these and I know means completely ah I'm overwhelmed by students that time at students many students as like no no I have a man in the department I divorced the English department in 1976 and that's almost a quarter of a century ago because I did not like what was happening so I got reappointed by the Yale corporation as our only University professor though I teach for the English department I teach for the humanities division I teach for other departments and I teach a great many students but no no there are many people at Yale both in my generation and younger than myself who are serious scholars passionate teachers okay intensely about thought and art and about the preserving of standards of Education oh no I don't feel isolated at Yale but if you're isolated in America you know I guess in the way I do it does seem to me I must somewhat outspoken old monster you know why not at my age what what can they do to me ah and wants to tell the truth and I think the truth is pretty dreadful nowadays culturally speaking and intellectually speaking I suppose I feel fairly isolated I won't read reviews of me because I know what they will be like they will be written by people who feel profound resentment of me ah doesn't matter isolated but you don't I can't feel isolated I mean I'm too tired ready to go on the road as much as I do in support of a new book that I've written but wherever I've gone and it's seven or eight cities by now as last night at politics and froze here an overwhelming number of people there many more than I expect and I've been told by thousands of people now and it's a it's changed something and humbling people come up to me we can only twelve me before four or five minutes each but they rather break my heart by saying that while we've never met before they regard me as their teacher it only makes me feel inadequate because you know what has terrible limitations as a teacher and when cares immensely and one will go on teaching and with his always thought was as much passion and intellect as when comparing to it yeah I guess I could feel kind of isolated but you know III salaita it maybe in the profession isolated in terms of the media isolated in terms of the time service as I call them the vicar's of Bray the tremors but then isolated with the reading public uh clearly I am read clearly from the thousands of letters I get my kid answer them all it's impossible I wouldn't do anything else and I couldn't do it even then but I answer the ones I can only there are a vast number of what I would call solitary and authentic deep readers in the United States who have not gone the way of the counterculture and they are all ages and they're of all races and all ethnic groups as I saw again last night at politics and frozen have seen wherever I've gone and certainly I don't feel isolated as a teacher at the costs though I admit as many students as I can possibly handle into my classes at both Yale and NYU my L seminars are preposterous ly large and I have to make a tremendous effort to get to talk to people individually and to get to know people individually so I guess I feel partly isolated because here I'm about to turn seven day and maybe maybe I am obsolete but that's just personal inadequacy what what I hope to represent what I try to represent that cannot be obsolete if that is obsolete then we will go down but I'm being too emotional so I'm sorry your wife you mentioned earlier on several occasions what's her name Jade where'd you meet her I bit her at Yale she was a graduate student did American colonial history I was already a faculty instructor in the English department oh that was 44 years ago we've been married 42 years though she worked for many many years as a school psychologist in the Bradford public school system she retired from it very reluctantly last June I didn't urge her to do it but I I was very glad she did because I worried about her health it's a very stressful job being the school psychologist particularly these days because when children have learning difficulties or alerting disabled or need special education it hurts their parents and the school psychologist has to get together with a teacher and the parents and the student but she would come home all too often being a very conscientious and honest person she would come home too stressed and I would be helpless to be of any answer so it's a great relief to me it also gives me much more company and again I couldn't go on the road as I do it because I'm too subject to exhaustion and she sustains me kids to sense how old one is 37 one is 34 and where they do so I'd rather look go into that the older one it's not quite well what about reading at you know for folks watching and they're interested in this idea and they've never read what recommendations I mean ever read a lot but how would you recommend somebody start to start one hopes of course that they will start as children but if they haven't started as children if they haven't read Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear or The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame that beautiful book I guess a wonderful place to start would be with a book that I fell madly in love with when I was 11 or 12 and must have read a hundred times since The Pickwick Papers of Charles Dickens an immensely readable and lovable book and open-open numerous charming simple to read immensely rewarding and of course with the earlier place if Shakespeare with Romeo and Juliet until you know what can go on to Hamlet until one can go on to the two parts of Henry the fourth and my great hero Sir John Falstaff of Jane Austen with the simpler novels like Sense and Sensibility to begin with but to go on to Pride and Prejudice and Emma and persuasion which are books of almost Shakespearean quality and intensity what about speed how fast should you read I don't think there are any rules or advice on that I mean everybody will find her or his own natural pace I'm hardly an advocate of speed reading I happened myself to be just as I have a preternatural memory I had particularly when I was younger a scandalous rate of reading it has fortunately slithered out as I have gotten old but I still read very quickly indeed but again I suspect it's a Talmudic inheritance and that these things must in some way be genetically minute by transmitted in some way but I don't think it matters how fast you read I mean for reading there never will be enough time and as I say in this book ultimately you read against the clock because if I remember arguing a little book called the Western Canon that if we had not just our 70 or 75 or 80 years depending upon medicine if we all are going to live 140 or 150 years there would be no argument about the Canon there would be well enough in time to read everything and if you wish to read on a representative basis rather than on the basis of high intellectual and aesthetic quality I would have no quarrel with it but time is limited you know there's only so much time and there is so much terrine that would really enhance your life it is as I argue in this book not only one of the most intense of all pleasures but I think it is the most healing of all pleasures I think it is more profoundly therapeutic and most of what is urged upon us as therapy when one does not quarrel of course with the anti-depressive drugs or anti schizophrenic drugs they are essential but when it comes to the various modes of talking therapy but even if spiritual therapy I would urge a deep course of solitary reading of the books that most matter is that what about place place where should you read what's your environment what should it be wherever you are wherever you can read whether you're alone or with others it's a very good thing to read aloud whether to USF or to others if they will countenance it I read where you can and whenever you can the editors of Shakespeare's First Folio published of course after his death his fellow actors and company members Hemmings and Conda ended their preface to the first folio by saying read him and read him again something that all the theatrical Assuan says that Shakespeare is only to be acted or not to be read should perhaps take to heart and is very rare these days – I think – what are called high-concept and politicized directors but I'm willing to sit through a performance of Shakespeare because while the quality of acting particularly of British actors is extraordinary the quality of Directors particularly of British directors is abominable so I don't often manage to sit through a production of Shakespeare which saddens me what about things like music do you listen to music when you read look what I read look now why you read no silence in the room as much as possible and what's the thought there why wouldn't you listen to music well if I'm reading Shakespeare if I'm reading Chaucer if I'm reading Don say I'm reading decadence or Jane Austen or Cormac McCarthy I I want to bring the whole of me to it you know I want to be totally lost and absorbed in it I want it to take me over but at the same time I want to maintain my critical faculties but I don't want distractions if I can possibly avoid having distractions the other day I read somewhere something that delighted me please suggestion that how wonderful it would be if we had had ebooks for many centuries now and suddenly we had that love as great technological advance the printed book you know how wonderfully we would welcome the printed book you don't have to plug it in you don't have to worry about whether your machine is operating properly or not you don't have to download it you just have to pick it up poor dog air things that it frequently is when you've Rutan enough and carry it along with you and settle down in the corner with it how what a marvelous technological advance we was celebrated especially how long do you plan to teach I had told the president of Yale Rick Levin was a very splendid man that I intend to be carried out of my very last year class in the large body bag still talking many years down the road I I will not return I don't think they will wish me to retire I don't think they can or will make me retire obviously if Y Health goes completely at some point and I cannot get myself into the classroom if my mind goes and I can no longer think and articulate clearly if I'm not capable of teaching well and I will stop teaching but otherwise otherwise I would hope to teach until I die it's it's what I do it's what I've done for 46 years and I think I would go mad and feel worse than useless without it this is the book it's called how to read and why our guest has been professor Harold Bloom and we thank you very much thank you all butch breath

8 thoughts on “How to Read Literature and Why: Short Stories, Poems, Novels and Plays (2000)

  1. "You cannot think without memory."  One sentence thus explodes one of the most inane of educational "philosophies": developing "learning skills."  Knowledge is indispensable in both hard and soft fields.  The best thinkers eventually develop a sense also of what they do not know–they demarcate their own limits and abide them.

  2. Wait…he’s blaming the “Counter Culture” for the intellectual decline? What about Neoconservative and Neoliberal Anti-intellectualism and the tremendous damage they have left in their wake?

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