Wednesday, July 26, 2017

First Of Three Quarrels With Harold Bloom On Hamlet


So is this why Harold Bloom won't talk to me, return my emails, won't come to the door when my emissaries knock on it every day at high tea? 

A few years ago I wrote a long interpretive essay on Hamlet, 135 pages, titled Futility As Tragedy...., which I self published at

I purposely avoided reading much secondary material for a few reasons, mostly I didn't want to risk drowning in the ocean of it.

I read a few bits here and there: I have 4 footnotes in the whole thing. I thought through an insight I had as a grad student about the play that I carried in my head for decades determined one fine day to set fingertips to keyboard. 

I did read a couple of essays by the histrionic Harold Bloom and in three specific places quarrelled with him.

Here's one of the disagreements. I'll put the second third and ones in two comments below. 

I'd love it if one of the billions who hang on my every word wade in, for or agin':

...Harold Bloom has argued, commenting on Hamlet's thinking:

....Hamlet's malaise, as Nietzsche recognized, is not that he thinks too much but that he thinks too well. He will perish of the truth, unless he turns to art, but he is royal as well as noble, and a nostalgia for action haunts him, though his intellect is profoundly skeptical of action...

It may be that in the ways of utter self-recognition and clear moral discernment Hamlet does not think as well as Claudius, who knows himself and does not flinch in 
self-delusion from what he knows. Knowing what he is and what he has done—while also sickened by it and seeking absolution—Claudius is single-minded and for a time effective in protecting his power. 

His intellect is for a while a match for his appetite and they are attuned. In contrast, Hamlet struggles with the burden imposed on him and cannot see past it or around it. His inclination to think and question clashes sharply with the bloodletting inherent in the revenge assigned to him, and he cannot by thought accommodate their conflict. 

Hamlet, therefore, thinks "much too well" in the sense of trying—without success—to think normatively; and so he thinks better than Claudius in the sense of attempting to think morally. But while Claudius thinks and plans effectively for a while, with his intellect and will attuned, Hamlet lacks will, and his intellect is therefore discordant with itself. He will "perish of the truth,” but the truth is evil ways that will finally destroy him morally and kill him. Hamlet does not turn to art, as might an artist, to translate burning sentiment into a large, imaginative tableau of reality. 

Rather, he turns to art instrumentally; he exploits it in trying to assuage the hesitancies of his will. The Mousetrap, he rationalizes, will catch the conscience of a king and therefore give him a firm ground for action. But that ground is nothing he really needs. He dances around his burden, utilizing pretexts not to act, while he tries to align his will with his mind. 

For will can be seen as determination in the coincidence of two meanings of “determination”: a judgment singling out something (that is to say, a determination); and the unrelenting insistence in acting on that judgment so as to implement it. Therefore, “a nostalgia for action" does not haunt Hamlet, as Bloom argues. Rather, Hamlet craves desperately the capacity for action; and his inability to step to it is what "haunts" him. 

The limits of his world bound the limits of his mind. The play’s bottomless tragedy is the sheer impossibility of attaining the good. In this, Hamlet’s mind—however widely and deeply it ranges in the expanses of his consciousness and the probing of his intellect—is helpless in its confrontation with evil...

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