Poe to Bloom: Boo!; continued:

Bloom, in this half-deeply personal, half-frothily anglophilic essay, clutches the teddy bear of Emerson’s ‘self-reliance’ as ‘original sin’ (associated with Poe) moans beneath his bed.  Allen Tate, Yvor Winters, and D.H. Lawrence are brought in to help Bloom vanquish Poe, although Bloom terms Poe “inescapable.”  Bloom wants Poe out of the canon (and his bedroom) but the professor admits it will not happen.

In Part 3, Bloom’s assault now turns on crude cultural politics: “Poe, a true Southerner, abominated Emerson, plainly perceiving that Emerson (like Whitman, like Lincoln) was not a Christian, not a royalist, not a classicist.”   Lincoln was a Christian, Whitman and Lincoln could not have been more different, and Poe was anything but a royalist, and no more Christian than Emerson.  It’s difficult to tell whether Bloom is baiting a certain kind of reader, or writing in pure ignorance.   How a man so erudite could be so ignorant is perhaps something only Harold Bloom could explain.

Part 4 looks at the Freudian aspect of Poe’s novel, ‘Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym’ and quotes Adorno calling Poe & Baudelaire “the first technocrats of art.”  It’s not long, however, before Bloom turns on his chainsaw again: “Poe is a great fantasist whose thoughts were commonplace and whose metaphors are dead.”  Poe’s “speculative discourses fade away in juxtaposition to Emerson’s, his despised Northern rival.”

Part 5:  Poe’s ‘Ligeia’ may have been read by Helen Whitman and Elmira Royster, and perhaps this is why these women did not marry Poe. (!)  Bloom, who seems to be looking to trade 3 Jesus Christ cards for one Emerson and one Whitman, writes, “…the northern or Emersonian myth of our literary culture culminates in the beautiful image of Walt Whitman as wounddresser, moving as mothering father…”

Part 6:  Bloom doesn’t like Poe’s criticism, either, and dismisses Poe with a couple of  obscure quotations.   Bloom champions, instead, the late Victorian criticism of Arnold, Pater, and Wilde.

Part 7: “Poe was savage in denouncing minor Transcendentalists.”   And Poe, according to Bloom, is racist–because “he would have loved”–published after Poe’s death–‘The Nigger Question’ by Thomas Carlyle.  (Emerson, whose ‘English Traits’ is explicitly racist, was Caryle’s literary agent in the U.S.)   And one final, embarrassing cheer from Bloom for Emerson: “Poe, on a line-by-line or sentence-or-sentence basis is hardly a worthy opponent.”

Twenty-five years later, is the popular Poe still giving Bloom–and anglo-american ‘zine modernism–nightmares?

Thomas Brady

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