Bloom: the American religion

harold bloom

I’m again reading Agon by Harold Bloom. All I can say is Bloom’s  early books are the deep roots of his present day flowering, his burst of books on religion and poetry. His contribution to the world of critical thought, so broad and connective, is original and hardly  equaled, as far as I can tell. Agon, with its cold subtitle, Towards a Theory of Revisionism (which is too academic sounding),  goes through and around Gnosticism, Kaballah, Freud, Emerson, Carlyle, Whitman, Stevens, Hart Crane, American pragmatism, etc. But what I most love is his capturing of “the American difference” in poetry and criticism. Frequently, in Bloom’s writing you can read “poetry” for “religion” and “religion” for “poetry.” Again, the pivotal heart of the book beats in the essay “Emerson: The American Religion.”  I want to quote a passage that begins six sentences into the essay: It now reads like an anthem to me, and never fails to carry me away:

The lengthened shadow of American culture is Emerson’s, and Emerson indeed saw everything is everything, and spoke with the tongue of a daemon. His truest achievement was to invent the American religion, and my reverie intends to a spiraling out from his center in order to track the circumference of that religion in a broad selection of those who emanated out from him, directly and evasively, celebratory of or in negation to his Gnosis. Starting from Emerson we came to where we are, and from that impasse, which he prophesied, we will go by a path that most likely he marked out also. The mind of Emerson is the mind of America, for worse and for glory, and the central concern of that mind was the American religion, which most memorably was named “self-reliance.”

For “self-reliance” read gnosis. After decades of reading Emerson and Bloom, I think I’m at last beginning to understand truly why America appears throughout its history to be verging toward crisis or collapse, while always moving forward.

For a list of Bloom’s  books and selected articles, click here.

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