Bloom, Strand discuss literature

After a long day of teaching “too many classes,” professor Harold Bloom GRD ’56 was tired. “If someone can give me another Cognac I can say something,” he told the crowd on Thursday afternoon at a Jonathan Edwards College Master’s Tea.

Bloom, who has taught at Yale since 1955, spoke with the poet Mark Strand, the event’s surprise guest, in front of about 50 students and professors. As he responded to the audience’s questions about literature, the Sterling professor also digressed to discuss a range of topics, such as the professors who once taught him and Philip Roth.

Professor Harold Bloom speaks at a Jonathan Edwards Master’s Tea on his favorite past professors and well-known American author Philip Roth.
Eva Galvan
Professor Harold Bloom speaks at a Jonathan Edwards Master’s Tea on his favorite past professors and well-known American author Philip Roth.

Before he began, Bloom singled out Marie Borroff, a Yale English professor emeritus sitting in the front row. “Do you remember when I asked you out to lunch?” Bloom said, with his wife in the audience. “I couldn’t get to first base.”

Bloom then shared stories about his most memorable professor, the late Frederick Pottle GRD ’25, recalling his first paper Pottle graded: He admonished “me to stop beating dead woodchucks,” Bloom said. Had he heeded this advice, Bloom said, he would not have written nearly as much over the past few decades.

When asked a question about Roth’s lasting contributions to the literary world, Bloom recalled the response he gave after reading the manuscript for Roth’s novel “Sabbath’s Theater.” Bloom praised the novel, and recalled telling Roth that it was an “amazing autobiographical work.”

The conversation then turned to American poets, and Bloom praised the esteemed Walt Whitman. As Bloom grew older, he said he found himself drawn to the literature of Walt Whitman and William Shakespeare.

“While it is not fair to put [Whitman] in that company … he is the answer to Europe insofar as we have an answer to Europe.”

After praising the great authors, Bloom shifted to discuss the academic interpretations of literary texts. He derided historicist English professors as “rugged opportunists,” but quickly corrected himself.

“That was a nasty comment,” he said. “I will blame it on the superior quality of the Cognac.”

Of the five audience members interviewed, they all remarked on Bloom’s unique personal traits and speaking style.

For one student, Gabriel Perlman ’12, the Master’s Tea transformed his world view.

“He likes his Hennesey and he was kind of mesmerizing,” Perlman said. “It changed my life.”

Although Andrew Squire ’12 enjoyed the event, he said he could not imagine enrolling in one of Bloom’s courses.

“I’m glad I went,” Squire said. “But he’s a really strange personality who would probably be too much to handle for a full term.” (Squire is a copy staffer at the News.)

When one audience member asked Bloom to interpret a poem by Strand, the poet interjected.

“People can make of my poems whatever they like,” Strand said.

Bloom responded: “Do you really mean that? Do you have no will to power over your text?”

Comments

  • Shakespeare

    "an apotheosis that is also an annihilation of all the certainties of the cultural past". These words appear in Bloom's chapter on Hamlet in his monumental work "Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human". These words may also describe our moment in history.

  • Hieronymus

    Mmmm… Bloom…

    One of the last living icons of Yale's glory period.

    "As you can see my dears, we won't be scaling any in-te-LEC'tual Him-a-LAY'-as this semester…"

    Bloom is the trailing edge of Western Civ, the last outpost of meaningful intellectual investigation.

    No, now we have "Porn in the Morn" to entertain us (although perhaps not for long).

  • Tea and Henessey my dears

    I have been told that Bloom was able to read 1000 pages an hour in his younger days.

    One critic in the NYT referred to him as the "man who has read more books than any person alive." Another said, "any person in the last 100 years".

    Another, that he has has more influence on intellectual culture than anyone since Dr. Johnson.

    And my dears, he walks in your midst---and drinks your tea and Henessey.

    Consider the $50,000 per annum Yale price tag well worth it.

    It is a mark of Yale's supremely outsized self esteem that it barely notices his presence.

    He has answered Yale's indifference by bequeathing his library NOT to Yale but where he has spent half a century creating a corpus which has shaped the modern world of thought, but instead to St. Michael's College in Vermont.

    Bloom out snubs the Old Blue snobs with a bit of Green Mountain green.

    Bless the News for redressing this neglect.

  • Incredible

    Seems incredible. That's about 17 pages a minute. I couldn't TURN them that fast. Can this be accurate? Plus he REMEMBERS them!

  • charlesdarwin

    professor: teach at YALE SINCE 1955.. You gotta be kidding… this man has been in from age 18-80…

    Folks. do the Numbers, this man has been in college for about 60-SIXTY YEARS OF LIFE ON EARTH…

    English/Humanities/literature is FREE FREE FREE at the Public Library.. I can read all day 24/7 with FREE FREE FREE LIBRARY PASS.

    YES. TRUE. I can read literature for FREE FREE FREE at the library for without paying $50,000 dollar in tuition…. yes. FREE FREE FREE INSTEAD OF 50K…

    Would someone tell professor harold bloom this at the Hospital.. This man has been in college for 60-years Now. Time to get a real-job at taco-bell wal-mart. costco.

    New Haven, Conn has the # 4 (fourth) highest crime rate in USA.. .All these ivory-tower need a good mugging on the streets. Time to get a real-job at Taco-Bell