Take any art, gather 100 "experts," ask them to name the best 200 works of the last 500 years. Imagine the eclecticism of the list! Music alone—imagine how many genres, aesthetics, and experiments you'd find! Harold Bloom wanted ONE NARROW CANON for poetry. That about sums it up.
1/ What killed poetry in America is that even those who thought to oppose Bloom's provincialism in fact merely cannibalized it. U.S. poetry has never in its history been permitted to blossom into the range of celebrated and enjoyed works that music or any other art has. Even now.
2/ In music we *accept*—even if we do not like, say, jazz—that there are *hundreds* of albums that jazz aficionados consider great that surely *are* undergirded by a strong argument for that designation. But every poet creates their own arrogant canon that sniffs at all the rest.
3/ I say this because, with Bloom's death today, there will be many who think they admirably opposed his dialectic for years. And they did—but only by taking the other side of it. The number of critics who've *overleapt* the dialectic to rescue U.S. lit from provincialism is few.
4/ If Bloom *or* his detractors had permitted lit to be as any other art—numberless subgenres, numberless writers/critics dextrous in each, numberless reasons to respect others' aesthetics, poetics, and metanarratives even if we don't share them—American lit would be transformed.
5/ For those of you who aren't lit-world refugees—as anyone who loves literature probably should be by now—here's an analogy: U.S. poetry (even *after* it vanquished Bloom this century) is like 50,000 people arguing *only* over which *classical* music is the best. It's appalling.
6/ I'm glad that we're in a time when we can consider the full scope of Bloom's life—his professional/personal successes/failures—including many years of atrocious conduct toward young women. But let's not set up hero narratives for those who opposed his professional workproduct.
7/ The fight *against* Bloom's provincialism was marred by the provincialism of some on the other side—who didn't so much want to break the wheel as fashion a wheel more to their liking. What we *needed* was for lit to be released into the wild to live like all the other arts do.
8/ The same folks who rightly found Bloom's writing and thinking on writing retrograde and oddly underdeveloped won't teach graphic novels in English classes, or manga, or MMORPG world-building, or embrace post-postmodernism, or teach 50 genres of creative writing rather than 3.
9/ College English "owns" literacy-building as knowledge base *and* skill-set, but how many English courses teach visual narrative, multimedia/transmedia narrative, videocy, electracy, XR literacy, post-postmodern theory, collaborative/machine-generated composition, or "pop" art?
10/ When a reactionary titan falls, there's a lot of gauche glad-handing and smugness among those who saw the gaps in his (it's usually a "he") armor. But I think these are moments for the opposite: not louche self-congratulation, but a profound self-examination by the survivors.
You can follow @SethAbramson.
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