Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Literature: Where Shall Wisdom Be Bound by Harold Bloom

Dr. Harold Bloom is a blow-hard. East Coast-trained he represents what my humble father, late of Hackett, Arkansas called, "part of the bastard New England elite." Where Shall Wisdom be Found? his not his majesty’s most recent work, but it is compelling nevertheless and deserves to be addressed.

Bloom is interested in identifying wisdom literature, those writings that impart that something that is greater than mere knowledge. He seeks the kinetic application of knowledge for understanding and a better good. Dr. Bloom regards all of the usual suspects in this book; those found in his earlier tomes, The Western Canon: the Books and School for the Ages and Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. Shakespeare, to be certain, is dealt with here and while the section dedicated to the playwright is a bit anemic, The Bard permeates the proceedings from start to finish. Bloom pairs writings and writers with one another in provocative ways, generally choosing like viewpoints for the two.

Bloom begins the book with Hebrew wisdom. He does not choose the no-brainer Proverbs or the apocryphal Wisdom of Solomon. He deftly picks Job (from which the title comes Job 28:12), and Ecclesiastes. Bloom picks up a good head of steam here, one that sustains him as he mows through the literary pairs: Plato / Homer, Cervantes / Shakespeare, Montaigne / Francis Bacon, Samuel Johnson / Goethe, Emerson / Nietzsche, Freud / Proust, Thomasine Wisdom / Augustine. Bloom begins to spin out around Freud, rallies with The Gospel of Thomas before petering out altogether on Augustine, who’s writing was included as an afterthought by the author.

But Bloom is ultimately to be forgiven as this book is fairly accessible to the commoner who, unlike Dr. Bloom cannot read 500 pages of text an hour and has the entire corpus of Shakespeare committed to memory. If Where Shall Wisdom be Found? does nothing but pique one’s interest in the Western Canon, it has more than accomplished its goal. Any book that will make a reader want to read more can only be good.

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2006