Laura Miller Reviews Rebecca Goldstein’s anti-Harold Bloom Novel “36 Arguments for the Existence of God”

In Rebecca Goldstein’s recently released novel, 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, Yale’s famous literary behemoth, Harold Bloom, apparently takes some bruising hits. Here’s Laura Miller on this aspect of the novel:

Obsessed with “genius” (and his own supreme authority in the detecting of it), his every utterance a torrent of arcane allusions and references, Klapper is an extended and merciless parody of Yale professor Harold Bloom. He hates political and post-structuralist literary theory, yes, but he reserves his most uncomprehending antipathy for the hard stuff: “Most of what passes for science is merest scientism,” Klapper opined to the seven grad students (Cass among them) who hung on his every word throughout a seminar titled “The Sublime, the Subliminal and the Self.” Each of these acolytes joined the anointed when told, by the great man, “I sense the aura of election upon you” (almost word for word what Bloom once said to the writer Naomi Wolf, in an incident she viewed as sexual harassment). Klapper sucked the life out of his students in exchange for allowing them to bear witness to his mighty cogitations and revelations, but he really latched onto Cass when he learned that Cass had family connections to an isolated Hassidic sect called the Valdeners. It seems that the great man harbored secret rabbinical yearnings; after all, no one basks in more unqualified admiration than the leader of such a community.

Hmm. An English professorship at Yale as cult practice (mesmerizing and mystifying your big-eyed initiates and engaging in alpha-male psychological power plays). That’s interesting, and explains a lot of things. Absent a temple to Artemis, what else is a gnostic like Bloom going to do with his secret knowledge? (Bloom has long called himself a gnostic.) But I wonder: is this just a problem on the humanities side of the campus, or does Goldstein think that science professors are also capable of this sort of thing? If I decide to get this novel, I’d be curious to see whether Goldstein portrays scientists at the progressive vanguard, and above it all. Given that Goldstein is an academic, and a sophisticated writer, I doubt it. Here’s Miller again:

Even those unpracticed in reading metaphysical fiction will be able to trace the philosophical issues and impasses embodied in her characters and recognize that she is offering no facile answers. If anyone expects this Princeton-trained logician to come out categorically on the side of materialism, they may wind up disappointed.

The book sounds interesting. One campus, two cultures?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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6 Responses to Laura Miller Reviews Rebecca Goldstein’s anti-Harold Bloom Novel “36 Arguments for the Existence of God”

  1. Perscors says:

    Since Bloom’s critical modus operandi is misreading it’s hard to imagine him as a cult leader desiring conformity and subserviance. He elevates paternal figures only to increase the struggle with them believing that it is strength that creates great art.

  2. santitafarella says:

    Perscors:

    I have long been a Harold Bloom fan, and I think that you are right about your characterization of him. My guess is that Camille Paglia (a former student of Bloom’s) would also rise to his defense (as you have). I have, however, known professors who fit this cultish pattern with their students. Even though Bloom falls short of the full-blown model, there does seem to be a species of professor that matches what she’s attempting to capture in one of her novel’s characters.

    —Santi

    • Perscors says:

      Bloom’s prominence has doubtless made him a prime target for this cult of personality type figure. I don’t think Bloom would deny the importance of personality in teaching either since the critics he champions are one’s of exceptional personality. BTW, really happy to have stumbled across this blog and am enjoying the posts I’ve read thus far.

  3. santitafarella says:

    Perscors,

    Thank you. You are very kind. With regard to persona in teaching, you’re right, it’s very important. But I guess that when you have a chaming persona it is always tempting to, well, charm with it in a way that it becomes a device for mystification etc.

    —Santi

  4. Pingback: My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: January 21, 2010 « Hungry Like the Woolf

  5. thomasapolis says:

    The premise of Goldstein’s new novel is intriguing, as is her exploration of the tensions between religion and logic. But her pretenses to an academic position on the matter reveal only bias and inconsistency. Her recent attack on literature departments in The New York Times essay “Theory, Literature, Hoax,” while a ploy to promote her book alongside Harold Bloom’s review of a book in the same issue of the Sunday Book Review, is also excessive and intellectually dishonest. I discuss this on Thomas Apolis, and I think it might be of interest, especially in explanation of why she offers no “facile answers”: http://thomasapolis.com/2010/05/14/unveiling-the-hoax-in-goldsteins-new-york-times-essay

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