- Hardcover: 814 pages
- Publisher: Warner Books; 1st Edition edition (Oct 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0446527173
- ISBN-13: 978-0446527170
- Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.3 x 5.2 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 832,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
And write he does, with erudition, wit and verve. The most difficult thing about this book is the introduction, with its elaborate explanation of the book's structure, based on the Kabalistic "Sefirot," attributes of God and God's image, emanating out from an infinite center. Once embarked on the essays, Bloom's enthusiasm animates his scholarship. He begins with the "crown," five masters, "each of whom dominates his genre forever." These are Shakespeare, Cervantes, Montaigne, Milton and Tolstoy. The essays are short and tend to seize on one aspect, character or work to celebrate the whole. For Shakespeare it's Falstaff. "Does anyone else, in all of literature, enjoy what he is saying as much as Falstaff does?" And "All that Hamlet, Falstaff, and Cleopatra require of you is that you not bore them."
Bloom's writing is tart and barbed; he enjoys taking aim at his critics nearly as much as extolling his subjects. Perhaps it is partly to needle those who disdain his partiality for dead white males that he posits the Biblical writer J, or the Yahwist, (writer of parts of Genesis and Exodus) as a woman. He pokes fun at revisionists and deconstructionists, though he seldom wastes a full sentence on any of them. "In our increasingly virtual reality, three authors seem immune to the decline of authentic reading: Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens."
All three, says Bloom, share one profound gift: "personalities major and minor burst forth from the pages of these writers, in a profusion otherwise unmatched in the language." Personality is essential to Bloom, who has plenty of it himself, and his discussions of artists as varied as Milton and Hemingway, Dante and Tennessee Williams, George Eliot and Muhammad, Iris Murdoch and Mark Twain, are fired with their difficult personalities, and the personalities of their art, their place in their world, their yearnings, longings and demons. Bloom himself - enthusiastic, opinionated and authoritative - kindles the urge to read.
If you are among the multitudes for whom life has sometimes been at its most glorious among the dead (i.e., authors) and the never-living (their eternal characters), you will revel in this vast lyrical volume. It is truly a poetical, not an analytic work (despite Bloom's employing an organizing principle of Kabbalistic schemata). A love poem, at that -- erotically charged with both the fleshly and the mystical -- and unconcerned with superficial hobgoblins of consistency. Bloom means to inspire, to provoke, to spur you to drink from these geniuses' original springs, and for vast numbers of readers who can overlook Sir Harold's foibles (or rejoice with them), he will succeed surpassingly.
One could wish the grace of more helpful editing had befallen the professor's final work and caught some of his contradictions and carelessnesses; he deserved to have an editor require better explication of his "definitions" and more follow-through on his arguments. But my sadness over the omission of such polishing strokes does not diminish my enthusiasm in recommending this volume to friends.
Contrary to impressions given by some introductory statements, Bloom's analytical arguments about Genius and its roles in the spiritual and intellectual evolution of humanity are NOT the life force of this work. As in his other best-sellers (Shakespeare; Western Canon) it is Bloom's real passion to play the pelican and feed us literary children the life-blood of his love for literature and its creators. The very wildness of Sir Harold will aggravate the Prince Johns and Lord Chief Justices of the academies, but the Prince Hal within us will be positively infected with the need to pursue further intoxication among the Geniuses.
Almost everybody will find *something* to be offended over somewhere in "Genius" -- since Sir Harold's extraordinary breadth of reading enables him to range over such a wide range of topics and his seniority has earned his personable-but-opinionated style a pronounced arrogance. I suggest the reader savor a little humility and overlook those idiosyncracies -- while resting uncompelled to accept every unexplicated conclusion Bloom offers -- and focus instead on draining this work for all the inspiration and insights that are pleasurably scattered throughout it. "Genius" passes the test that the professor in his introduction sets for any written work: "...has my awareness been intensified, my consciousness widened and clarified?" Yes: Enjoy!