I have been in the mind of a genius. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing from Mel Gibson’s film “The Patriot” after he has stolen Gen. Cornwallis’ diaries.)
That genius, Harold Bloom, is not only the greatest literary critic of our lifetimes, but quite possibly the greatest of all time. He has written more than 50 books with a special interest in Shakespeare, and “Possessed by Memory” appears to be a collection and a coda of memories for Bloom, who turned 89 in July. Bloom is now wheelchair-bound and appears to have dictated much of the book to an assistant, which begs theimpressive question of how much of this book simply flowed from the great man’s mind. The amount of text and poetry he has committed to memory is astounding and humbling.
He throws out stanzas of the poet Wallace Stevens (my homeboy who was also raised in Reading, Pa.) like he’s reciting the alphabet. And then he ties Stevens to Walt Whitman, who he ties to Whitman’s Quaker upbringing, which he ties to the Tyndale Bible. This is a mind that has seemingly defied the aging process and the writing is further proof of the mental gymnastics being performed in his mind.
He creates sentences that are enduring tributes to the Bard himself (or herself, if recent scholarship as to Shakespeare’s “real” identity is to be considered). Such as when he reflects on the Bastard Faulconbridge, who first appears in “King John.”
“Take him out of ‘King John’ and the play scarcely would be readable or worth staging. Everyone else in it chants a kind of Marlovian, fustian rhetoric, but the Bastard possesses a language and wit entirely his own. Interestingly, he is entirely Shakespeare’s creation; the chronicles barely mention such a person.”
Save money on the SAT English prep courses, simply buy your wannabe college student some Harold Bloom and give them access to an online dictionary.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman (who visited Fredericksburg at least once to search for his wounded brother at Chatham during the Civil War), so reading Bloom on Whitman seems like a worthy tribute to the great American poet. In fact, it should be required reading in 2019, but that likely reveals a naïvete on my part that Whitman and poetry still hold hallowed places in the modern world or curriculum.
Whitman’s “Song of Myself” has influenced almost all poets who followed and Bloom, rightfully, quotes it extensively including:
“Of God I know not; But this I know; I can comprehend no being more wonderful than man;”
Hard to argue that sentiment after reading Harold Bloom’s “Possessed by Memory.”