- The Saving Lie: Harold Bloom and Deconstruction
Agata Bielik-Robson’s welcome addition to the Bloomian critical canon engages with Bloom from a lively post-structuralist perspective. In this review, I will concentrate upon what unique features this highly intelligent Professor of Jewish Studies brings to the Bloomian banquet of words.
The concept of the self lies at the heart of Bielik-Robson’s study since she writes that Bloom’s ‘fundamental and ever-recurring problem’ would seem ‘how is it possible for the subject to defend itself against heteronomous influences if there is yet no independent, autonomous self?’ In order to better facilitate her argument she draws upon a formidable array of French theorists and in particular those that Bloom tussled with during the heady heydays of Yale deconstruction. The obvious objection to a monograph that concentrates upon Bloom’s contiguities with French Theory is that Bloom has in a recent interview described Lacan as ‘absurd’, while, in Poetry and Repression, he dubs Laplanche’s model of consciousness ‘hilarious’ and like ‘Buster Keaton’. Bielik-Robson nowhere mentions Bloom’s slighting of these remarks and, for tranches of pages at a time, the writings of Lacan, Blanchot, Derrida and Heidegger et al. replace those of Bloom. But to dwell on these elisions would be to fail to appreciate the impressionistic delight that Bielik-Robson takes in reading Bloom against the grain. Or, as she writes in her introduction:
It would be thus wholly acceptable to perceive Bloom as the heir of the specifically American romantic-pragmatic Emersonian extraction with its characteristic ‘evasion of philosophy’ [...] But [...] we are not going to choose it here. We want to see how Bloom wrestles [...] with the puzzles posed by the last representatives of this tradition he himself gathers under the dismissive heading of ‘Heidegger and his French flock’.
So well does she achieve her stated design that the reader is conducted through Bloom’s deconstructive writings with great gusto and flair. Bielik-Robson’s saving error of originality is to read Bloom as if he were a French theorist. The title of her book, ‘The Saving Lie’, while referring to the will-to-power of the strong poet in surmounting influential figures, also acts as a catch-all figure for her conception of the agonistic struggle between the autonomous self of the Romantic tradition and the decentred subject of post-structuralist orthodoxy. Casting a wary eye on Bloom’s attempts to assert the primacy of liberal humanist self-authentication, Bielik-Robson pronounces: ‘[if] ironic oscillation of the romantic self between the delusion of autonomy and the truth of reality-testing is indeed the ultimate predicament of the writing subject, then there is no hope for it’.
Bielik-Robson mainly concentrates upon Bloom’s well-known tetralogy of influence – The Anxiety of Influence, A Map of Misreading, Poetry and Repression and Kabbalah and Criticism – to the detriment of almost every close or diachronic reading of poetry that Bloom ever ventured. The weakness of this modus operandi (that ignores the discussions of Yeats and the English and American Romantics that preceded The Anxiety of Influence) is that it neglects the sense in which Bloom formulated a theory of poetry in order to reinvigorate the reading of poetry. Yet, if Bielik-Robson places undue emphasis on the philosophical niceties of Bloom’s theorising, at the expense of a close engagement with his close readings of verse, it is worth bearing in mind Bloom’s endorsement of the Emersonian maxim that ‘there is no other method than your self’. [End Page 197] I cannot much blame her for her revisionary swerve into continental philosophy, even if the clinamen thus executed redefines the said concept of self as a saving fiction.
If at times Bielik-Robson seems to lose herself in the thickets of abstruse post-structuralist rhetoric at others she appears bracingly clear. In one particularly memorable passage she spells out the fictional foundations of the authentic self as follows: ‘having no vision of one’s own...