Thursday, August 09, 2007

Harold Bloom's Genius

Jen showed me a book the other day called Genius by Howard Bloom. The idea of the book is that this English professor/literary critic has decided to celebrate 100 of the most creative literary minds in history. Naturally, having run across a section on Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, Jen figured I would want to have a look at what Bloom had to say about one of my favourite books and authors.

I should preface my comments by saying that I have a long history of not agreeing with English professors and generally find them to be cloth-eared nincompoops. I originally went into University with the intention of getting an English degree, but after a couple of years couldn't stand to be a part of that department, or deal with those professors, anymore. I'm sure that it's not indicative of English departments everywhere, nor of the UofS faculty (I'm open to believeing that there are even some good profs in our neck of the woods), but when you start to bend basic historical events to fit into your romantic, idealised version of the environment a literary work was produced in, I get aggravated.

I know I'm probably being overly sensitive but Bloom got off to a rough start with me by mentioning Hemingway right off the bat and making something of a direct comparison between the two writers. His first words are, "Like his equivocal friend, Ernest Hemingway, Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald has joined American literary mythology." Now, admittedly, I'm no great fan of Hemingway. I tend to agree with Dave Sim's analysis that he was a typist, not a writer, especially when compared to the lyrical storytelling of someone like Fitzgerald. So, I ask myself, why does Bloom find it necessary to enter Fitzgerald's world through a Hemingway filter?

Looking back I found no mention of Fitzgerald in the Hemingway section. Surely, as one of the preeminent literary critics, Bloom should already know that he is speaking about an author who is three years the senior of Hemingway, and whose 'genius literary contribution' was published a full year before The Sun Also Rises, Bloom's choice for Ernest's 'genius contribution' to literature. He should also know that Fitzgerald served not only as an equivocal friend to Hemingway but as something of a mentor until the two eventually parted ways.

Instead, Bloom treats him almost as an afterthought. Perhaps, like Hemingway, he has difficulty seeing beyond the excesses of F. Scott and Zelda. Many critics have commented on how Fitzgerald's drive to write was financially motivated, earning money by writing short stories for magazines rather than devoting his life to more artistic pursuits. Scott liked his quality of life and did what he could to maintain it. He wrote sometimes for the love of writing, and sometimes he did it because that was his job. No shame in that to my reckoning, but it does get the intelligentsia stomping their feet.

This was also part of the reason why the two writers stopped fraternizing. Hemingway didn't approve of how F. Scott conducted himself as a person and as an artist. He felt that commercial concerns had nothing to do with the process of 'writing' and left to make his contribution to the literary world and show his genius. Then again, it probably didn't hurt that he and Zelda couldn't stand each other, particularly after she accused Ernie of being a closet homosexual, and if you know anything about Hemingway, you know how that probably stuck in his craw.

Anyway, the whole point of this rant was to let off some steam and I think I've achieved that. I have to say that I was honestly surprised at how impassioned I was to post this after reading bits from Genius. I don't normally care enough to comment on things like this, especially when they have that ring of "who's stronger, the Hulk or The Thing?" to it. I just needed to get that off my chest, throw my two cents in and give Bloom the bird in the process.

I feel a bit better now.


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