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Monday, October 15, 2007

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posted by on October 15 at 12:11 PM

What is Harold Bloom’s problem?

…American literary critic Harold Bloom called the academy’s decision [to award Doris Lessing the literature prize] “pure political correctness.”
“Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction,” Bloom told the AP.

To begin with, Lessing, a Rhodesian-born author, has never been a good writer. All of her books/short stories/essays are not above the level of fourth-rate. So the prize has nothing to do with her writing. Nor has it anything to do with “political correctness.” That kind of thinking is going the wrong way.

To see the actual meaning of Lessing’s award you must place it next to the peace prize awarded to Al Gore. First picture the two winners (one a white African; the other a white American) standing shoulder to shoulder; second, turn them away from each other; third, stop turning when they are back to back; lastly, picture the political opposite each faces: Robert Mugabe, on Lessing’s side; George Bush on Gore’s. Now we understand what the academy is really doing: slapping the worst leaders in the world. One slap is directed at a leader at the bottom of global civilization, Mugabe; the other is for a man at its top, Bush.

Bloom’s complaint about political correctness only exposes his madness: he actually thinks the prize for literature should be about writing. Bloom is like a man who runs into the market place and tells everyone that God is dead, as if this is still big news.

RSS icon Comments


Oh noes! The awards are political? Thank God we've still got the Oscars, which are just as pristine, merit-based, and unbiased as ever.

Posted by Greg | October 15, 2007 12:22 PM

"Bloom is like the man who runs into a market and tells everyone that God is dead, as if this is still big news."

I love that, so much that I may plagiarize it in the near future.

Posted by Carollani | October 15, 2007 12:26 PM

Nice post, Charles. I dig the image.

Posted by kid icarus | October 15, 2007 12:27 PM

I'm no fan of Harold Bloom but ... shouldn't the Nobel prize for literature be about literature? I understand that often these prizes are *not* about literature, but shouldn't we aspire for them to be?

Posted by arduous | October 15, 2007 12:29 PM

That's a very good point, Charles--it's interesting, normally it's very easy for critics to write off the Nobel in Literature as politically motivated, yet you've been the first to point out a rather clear connection. Perhaps the fact that Lessing is white, and her subject tends to have focused on white women, has contributed to the fact that precious few saw her as connected to Zimbabwe at all. In fact, the continued use of the old colonial name of the state serves to reinforce that the impression that she was just a transient white colonial.

Posted by Jeremy | October 15, 2007 12:43 PM

I've read several Nobel laureates and I agree. It's not just about literature.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 15, 2007 12:43 PM

I'm still laughing at #1. Well said.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 15, 2007 12:45 PM

That makes perfect sense. The visual of the two evil leaders is classic.

It's sad though: once people realize, they will stop writing. I mean, the reason you want to be in the lit game is for the fab prizes, right? If the prizes are going to be political, might as well go work for Hartford insurance or something.

Posted by elenchos | October 15, 2007 12:56 PM

If Charles Mudede wants to denigrate and diminish Al Gore and Al Gore's Nobel Peace Prize, he's got a lot of catching up to do:

On the day after Al Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize, The Wall Street Journal’s editors couldn’t even bring themselves to mention Mr. Gore’s name. Instead, they devoted their editorial to a long list of people they thought deserved the prize more.

Posted by cressona | October 15, 2007 1:04 PM

Hey Dan - are you still in transit avoiding nasty restrooms at O'Hare?

I'm of the 3:44 Alaska flight back to Seattle and you're more than welcome to join me in the Delta's O'Hare Crown Room.

You might consider getting a membership to at least one airline lounge: wine & beer are typical free and the restrooms are at least better than those in the terminal. There's a higher quality of eye-candy too. What's not to like?

Posted by AtlSea | October 15, 2007 1:04 PM

Going all the way back to a Slog post of October 4: "If Bloom came off any more ex cathedra in his judgments, he’d be pope."

Posted by Gurldoggie | October 15, 2007 1:07 PM

Puleeze. There is no way I am going to take seriously anything Charles Mudede has to say about quality in writing. The Nobels political? Sure. Doris Lessing a fourth rate writer? Come on, Charles...

Posted by dr. thompkins | October 15, 2007 1:07 PM

@9: I don't think he was trying to bring Al Gore down so much as he was simply pointing out what was wrong with the comment.

Posted by Me | October 15, 2007 1:17 PM

All of her books/short stories/essays are not above the level of fourth-rate.

So that would make Charles... what? Fifth rate? Sixth rate?

Posted by The Baron | October 15, 2007 1:56 PM

Well, yeah. Bloom's only reason for still breathing at this point is to serve as a museum piece that everyone gawks at. Perhaps he sees himself as Queen Margaret, prophesying doom upon us all.

Posted by tsm | October 15, 2007 2:08 PM

The Golden Notebook is not fourth-rate fiction. Neither is The Grass Is Singing. These are fine works.

Posted by Will in 98103 | October 15, 2007 3:19 PM

Delightful post Charles. Erudite, brilliant discussion of the phony Nobel Prizes. You are four times the critic Harold Bloom will ever be Charles, you should be teaching at Yale, not Harold Bloom.

Posted by Issur | October 15, 2007 4:00 PM

You are a 4th rate columnist so I guess you can ID who else is in your league, right? You probably belong to the Heart of Darkness book club, zzzz.

Also, get your facts straight man. Lessing was born in Persia, but went on to grow up in Rhodesia.

Posted by sheila | October 15, 2007 4:48 PM

If that is their intention (and I agree that it must be) then instead of degrading these awards by awarding them to such obviously undeserving persons as a form of criticism of their perceived foils, they need to create the equivalent of a Nobel “Raspberry” and use it to target those they want to criticize and own up to that criticism instead of going about it in such a cowardly backhanded way.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | October 15, 2007 5:05 PM

If you ever run into Harold Bloom at a cocktail party and you want to piss him off, ask about his book the "Flight of Lucifer," Bloom's sequel to David Lindsay's great "Voyage to Arcturus". Apparently he hates it so much he disowned it.

Charles, Re: Lessing, are you sure you are an unbiased reader? You might have a chip on your shoulder... Just a thought...

Posted by Jude Fawley | October 15, 2007 8:28 PM

He doesn't have a chip on his shoulder. He has a hard-on for... CHOKLATE

Posted by BillyBob | October 15, 2007 11:05 PM

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