Genius: An Invitation to the Literary Wisdom of Harold Bloom
Through 100 names of universal literature, Bloom, the giant, explores the characteristics and possibilities of literary creation.
What is or how is genius created? We’re not talking about the figure within Arab mythologies where a giant being appears from a magic lamp to grant us wishes, although the figure of the genius in the West still has something to do with lamps –– it has, in fact, a lot to do with their luminous, powerful and revealing character.
Harold Bloom is a polemic literary critic with a special taste for uncommon taxonomies. For him, the traditional criteria surrounding issues such as language, geographical location, political affiliation or historical period have never been enough when it comes to thinking and pondering the worth of the greatest writers of all times. It can be said that it was Bloom who actually invented the new canon of Western literature, and with all the limitations it has drawn to the world of academia, there remains no doubt that he is a great appreciator and one of the last great readers left in the world.
A little over thirty years ago, Bloom published a book that would become a classic, The Anxiety of Influence, which explored poetic creation from an almost esoteric point of view, mediating the work of a “young poet” from the work of a previous poet. A few years ago he published a piece as monumental as the subjects he studies, parting from one of the hardest categories to define, as well as one the most commonly used and overvalued in the world of the arts: Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, published by Warner Books.
In Genius, Bloom makes use of his encyclopaedic knowledge to approach the work of 100 great writers of all times. The method he employed to organise these 100 names does not pretend to establish a genealogy (as he did in The Western Canon), but approach in a creative way the similarities and differences of the writers, based on a method that might seem exotic or exorbitant for some: the Jewish Kabbalah.
The Kabbalah is a method of interpretation based on the 10 emissions of divinity for Kabbalists (commentators of biblical writings within the medieval tradition). The Kabbalah establishes 10 “sefirot”, or aspects of God. Thus, for example, the Keter Sefirot means “the crown”, and it represents the magnificence of God. At the head of the group is Shakespeare (of course), and great writers such as Miguel de Cervantes, Michel Montaigne, Milton and Leon Tolstoy follow him.
Other groups are integrated by aspects such as Hokmah —the wisdom of God, represented in Bloom’s book by wise men such as Lucretius, Virgil, Saint Agustin, Dante and Chaucer— or Binah, an “intelligence not so much receptive but moving and open” to wisdom, where he places Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Ibsen y Pirandello, among others.
Through his book, Bloom sets out to create something other than a mere strict categorisation of literary value: “Genius, in its writings, is our best path for reaching wisdom… the true use of literature for life.” Wisdom is, for Bloom, the highest value, and it is within the search of wisdom that geniuses organise not to bridge a definitive distance between the artist and the common man, but to particularise the experiences of creation and guide our learning experience.
Let’s leave Bloom himself extend us a warm invitation into this profitable reading:
My placement of the hundred geniuses is hardly one that fixes them in place, since all the Sefirot are images constantly in motion, and any creative spirit must move through all of them, in many labyrinths and transformations. … Since the ten Sefirot form a system in constant motion, all of my hundred persons could be illuminated almost equally well by the other nine Sefirot, beyond the one where I group them, and I intend this book to be a kind of mosaic-in-perpetual-movement.
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