So I’m reading Harold Bloom and I finally get to the chapter for which I decided to read Where Shall Wisdom Be Found in the first place: Montaigne and Bacon. And I am disappointed.
Aside from the giggles I’ve gotten from some of Bloom’s more outrageous statements which have nothing to do with the the topic of the book, the book has been a great let down. I expected a certain erudition, a certain level of scholarship and I have not found it. Instead I find statements which I am just supposed to accept because of the reputation of the person making them instead of statements with well reasoned arguments backing them. It is still unclear to me what it is Bloom considers Wisdom Literature, nor is it clear what he considers the meaning of wisdom to be. He considers Cervantes to be the preeminent novelist, Montaigne the preeminent essayist, and Shakespeare the preeminent playwright and the most god-like writer humanity has ever produced. Every author and character is compared to Shakespeare and Hamlet.
Surprisingly, Bloom does not name Hamlet as a work of wisdom literature. Instead he chooses King Lear and Macbeth but declares their wisdom to be a negative wisdom and veers off into a discussion of nihilism. And when it comes to his discussion of Montaigne he begins promisingly enough by stating that Montaigne goes beyond wisdom because he confronts you with his concern for your own enlightenment and consciousness. He then begins to talk about Montaigne’s influence, mentions that T.S. Eliot once commented that readers of Montaigne are “thoroughly infected” by him, and then zooms off into his pet topic, the anxiety of influence. In this case it is Pascal who hated and admired Montaigne, who tried to out Montaigne Montaigne and failed miserably at it.
And of course, there is the obligatory incendiary statement:
Is that wisdom that can be linked to the reading of the strongest literature? You don’t need to appoint yourself defender of canonical literature to show others that period pieces and commercial rubbish cannot yield any wisdom, let alone the strength that is the wisdom Montaigne exalts.
I’ve made it halfway through the book at this point. I’ll stick with it until the end, but I’m afraid I won’t be finding any wisdom in this book.