Mark's Reviews > Herman Melville's Moby-Dick

Herman Melville's Moby-Dick by Harold Bloom
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Jan 27, 2012

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bookshelves: nonfiction-and-essays
Read in January, 2012

Having recently re-read (again) MOBY DICK, I was jonesing for a little academic analysis, and the local library offered up this collection, an anthology of eight essays spanning the 20th century and its various "schools" and critical approaches: biographical, Freudian, formalist, historical, rhetorical, etc. The range of essays provides a decent overview of the various approaches to America's greatest novel, and they provided me with some fresh insights (as well as a reminder of how tiresome academic writing can be at times). Editor Harold Bloom's Introduction is actually the strongest piece in the book (he probably whipped it off before his morning coffee), placing MOBY DICK in the context of Melville's other work to demonstrate similar themes but also point how different, and remarkable, this masterpiece is. (Though I do feel Bloom overdoes the "Gnosticism" stuff a bit.) Bloom gets bonus points for calling up Faulkner's observation that Ahab's fate is "a sort of Golgotha of the heart become immutable as bronze in the sonority of its plunging ruin," and near the end of the essay he highlights a line from the novel that may be the key to its interpretation (if indeed there is a key, and if the novel can even be interpreted). From, (of course), Chapter 42, "The Whiteness of the Whale": "Though in many of its aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright."
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Marc (new)

Marc Weidenbaum I think he did. When I was in college, a class we had -- maybe Geoffrey Hartman's or Paul Frey's? -- took a little field trip to the factory (well, suite of rooms) where Bloom's grad students were popping these things out. It was the start of my diminished interest in pursuing a PhD.

Mark Yeah, from a certain perspective this is a fascinating series, and not as a set of critical tools. There is a palpable sort of twisted Johnsonian madness about the whole thing. I wonder how much of it was financial ambition on Bloom's part vs a desire to corner the intro-level criticism market. It's too bad he didn't get to this project a bit later, on the Internet. What you really need to read is Boom's intro to the Stephen King volume of the series. (It was on the library shelf near the Melville volume.) It's a hilarious but generally accurate hatchet-job, and the collected essays are almost a parody (unintentional) of academic claptrap at its best. And I just love the image of Bloom sitting in his office chair reading THE TOMMYKNOCKERS. What class did you have Hartman for?

message 3: by Marc (new)

Marc Weidenbaum I feel pretty comfortable seeing this as a financial opportunity, because of the machine-like semi-efficiency of it all, at a production level. I'd have to look back at which Hartman class I took. It was a seminar. Stories when we next share a beer. I will look of that King volume. It sounds like something Spy magazine would have made once upon a time.

message 4: by James (new)

James Wow. I need that Harold Bloom Stephen King book, but quick.

Phillip Bost Thanks for this review. I agree that Bloom's piece was the strongest work in this compendium.

Mark You bet Phillip.

Mark Thanks for the kind words. Would that I had more time to write reviews.

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