18 mar. 2010

I think there are lessons in receptivity to be learned from Harold Bloom, T.S. Eliot, and Jorge Luis Borges.

From Bloom I took, at an early age, the idea that it was possible to be something called "a great reader." In other words, that there could be greatness in reading in the first place. It's not at all a self-evident concept. We're not talking about competence in an analystical procedure like New Critical textual analysis, but the ability to re-envision the work of a writer. Bloom's descriptions of certain poets as great and profound readers of others was very influential in my thinking. One of the problems in his theory, though, is his emphasis on strength. It seems like a great reader has to be an egotistical misreader, because he (usually he for Bloom) is so threatened by the power of the precursor. He has to win the battle. Wouldn't a weak reading be more receptive, hence stronger in some sense? Where's the negative capability? The division into strong and weak means that the critic already knows what's weak and strong, and hence limits the scope of receptivity.

Another problem is that there can never be a poem that simply is itself--every meaning attributed to a poem ends up being another poem, so we get an infinite reversion. Finally, Bloom could convey the sheer excitement of receptivity but usually could not say anything all that useful about particular texts: you just had to take the depth of his reading on faith.

Bloom's own precursors are Pound and Eliot. They showed how a single powerful reader could reorient the entire canon of Western literature in a different direction.

About Borges, more later.