A common reader

Throughout his “Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human,” Harold Bloom riffs on the falling from academic favor his aesthetic critical view. The riffs underscore his concerns for the deterioration of education. Yet he insists there’s still a common reader out there who cares: “Common readers, and thankfully we still possess them, rarely can read Dante; yet they can read and attend Shakespeare” (p. 3).

Who is this common reader? Is he the same reader Salinger dedicated “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters…” to: “…an amateur reader still left in the world – or anybody who just reads and runs…”?

But we love hearing the great Bloom blowing like Lear against the storm, against the “institutional purveyor of literature… happily proclaiming its death” (p. xviii), who lives in “our self-defiled academies” (p. 3), promoting an “arbitrary and ideologically imposed contextualization… – those critics who value theory over the literature itself” (p. 9), Bloom hoping against hope that Shakespeare will survive “the current debasement of our teaching institutions” (p.17), hope based on the “common reader [who] continues to regard Shakespeare’s persons as being more natural than those of all other authors” (p. 52).

Who is this common reader, who has now read not only Shakespeare, but all other authors (excepting Dante), and can compare? Is Bloom’s common reader Bourdieu’s working class, given a cultural transfusion, turning into “petty bourgeois subscribing to the Bolshoi” (An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, p. 82)?

“Anything goes in the current scholarly criticism of Shakespeare” (Bloom, p. 78), but does the common reader also read current scholarly criticism? To whom is Bloom writing, “since deep reading is in decline, and Shakespeare… now vanishes from the schools…” (p. 715)? Indeed, in any case, “It is no longer possible for anyone to read everything of some interest and value that has been published on Shakespeare,” but we have Bloom, who does not “…mistake political and academic fashions for ideas” (p. 716).

And where did Harold Bloom ever run into a common reader? On the Yale campus? Never mind. A common reader still has a chance to meet Harold Bloom, and for that, we are grateful.

The Eloi and the Morlock

Reading Pierre Bourdieu last night, after looking thru ”The Time Machine” and “Fahrenheit 451″ yesterday.

“In the case of artists and writers, we find that the literary field is contained within the field of power where it occupies a dominated position. (In common and much less adequate parlance: artists and writers, or intellectuals more generally, are a ‘dominated fraction of the dominant class.’)” Bourdieu, Pierre. (1992). ”An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology” (p.104).

Wells ends ”The Time Machine” with a pessimistic vision of the future, more optimistic though than he probably considered: “And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers – shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle – to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man” (p. 141), for “The Eloi, like the Carlovingian kings, had decayed to a mere beautiful futility” (p. 89).

In “On Television,” we were struck by this Bourdieu thought: “There is nothing more difficult to convey than reality in all its ordinariness” (p. 21). Certainly not when you’ve got less than a minute to convey. Bradbury summarized in fiction the same power and effects of television that Bourdieu discusses in “On Television,” toward the end of Fahrenheit 451, in the scene where the police, unable to find the real Montag in the attention-span-time-requirement of the evening news, settle for an innocent, unknown citizen, and the television reports they’ve got Montag, while the real Montag is now uselessly free.