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Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, June 11th, 2003


 

Hamlet: Poem Unlimited

by Harold Bloom

Confessions of a Reluctant Harold Bloom Fan

A review by Heidi Julavits

It is May 2002, and the critic Harold Bloom is in Barcelona to accept a prize. I am also in Barcelona, along with a number of other young American writers. I am told by a radio host that Bloom was asked via translator which young American writers he admired; Bloom responded, via translator, that there's nothing interesting happening in contemporary American literature.

It would figure that I, a former women's studies major and supplicant to what Bloom calls the School of Resentment, should want to hog-tie the old grump with my Wonderbra — and yet I find Bloom sort of tragically adorable. Who couldn't help but think endearing this childishly exuberant man, this true hedonist of literature, this brainiac who embraces the "strange" as a mark of canonicity and whose essential critical project, no matter how gloriously futile, is to restore the romance of reading? Yes, he delivers his silly (and not so silly) potshots, yes, he can be reductive and boorish in his slights, but he writes and reads like a man obstinately in love, and this, in turn, is worth delighting over.

Those who read Bloom for his frothy invectives against feminist critics will be disappointed in Hamlet: Poem Unlimited, for there is but a single, halfhearted jab in this sober yet besotted postlude to his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human.

If Shakespeare has, as Bloom famously postulates, taught us how to talk to ourselves, perhaps Bloom meant this book to serve as a working example of one man's unsettled yet exalted internal dialogue. Hamlet: Poem Unlimited reads more as soliloquy than combative critical discourse. Like an audience at a Hamlet production, we readers become spectators to an Olympic intellect talking to itself in its twilight moments as the forces of fate and history close ranks against it. Bloom asks of the fatalistic "perchance to dream" soliloquy, "Where is there such exaltation?...And the answer is: Everywhere, in each phrase, in each pause, as this grandest of consciousnesses overhears its own cognitive music."


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