Harold Bloom on the Ghastly Decline of the Humanities (and on Obama’s Poetry)

Open Source (iTunes Feed Web Site) is back. The radio show host­ed by Christo­pher Lydon hit some finan­cial snags last sum­mer and went off-air. Now, thanks to the Wat­son Insti­tute at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, the pro­gram has found new life, and it’s already regain­ing some of its old momen­tum.

Right before the New Year, the show aired a three-part inter­view with Harold Bloom, Amer­i­ca’s most well known lit­er­ary crit­ic. As always, Bloom does­n’t hes­i­tate to share his views here. But he saves his sharpest remarks for when he address­es the state of the human­i­ties in the Amer­i­can acad­e­my (MP3iTunesFeedWeb Site). For Bloom, a long­time pro­fes­sor at Yale, it’s not a pret­ty pic­ture. The human­i­ties, par­tic­u­lar­ly the study of lit­er­a­ture, has “com­mit­ted sui­cide” by “going in for polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness to a sim­ply sick­en­ing degree” and “get­ting away from canon­i­cal stan­dards [and] cog­ni­tive and aes­thet­ic stan­dards.” The human­i­ties, Bloom sum­mar­i­ly says, “are not worth cel­e­brat­ing until they estab­lish them­selves as a dis­ci­pline again,” and, until some res­ur­rec­tion takes place, they won’t have the insti­tu­tion­al stand­ing of the social sci­ences. These are strong words, but frankly they’re among his milder com­ments. Have a lis­ten, and find the com­ments men­tioned above about 13 min­utes in.

For­tu­nate­ly, the con­ver­sa­tion does end on a pos­i­tive note (at least sort of). Bloom gives a kind nod to the poet­ry writ­ten by the young Barack Oba­ma (read it here), liken­ing his poems to the work of Carl Sand­burg and Langston Hugh­es. It’s fair­ly high praise, espe­cial­ly when you con­sid­er that he’s will­ing to call Jim­my Carter the “worst poet in North Amer­i­ca.”

Below find the two oth­er seg­ments of the record­ed inter­view with Harold Bloom.

1) On Walt Whit­man (MP3iTunesFeedWeb Site)

2) The Jazz Bridge (MP3iTunesFeedWeb Site)

And also see our ear­li­er piece: The Art of Read­ing a Poem (Accord­ing to Harold Bloom). Here you get to lis­ten to a class where Bloom gives a crit­i­cal read­ing of a Wal­lace Stevens poem. This one is long on straight­for­ward schol­ar­ship and short on polemics.

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  • […] Decem­ber 22, 2009 by dara­nee Wow. Last night lis­tened to crotch­ety old man Harold Bloom on npr about the decline of the human­i­ties. Trans­la­tion: peo­ple study books and poet­ry that he doesn’t like. How­ev­er, if like me you like lit­er­ary crit­i­cism and you have the stom­ach for lis­ten­ing to him (he is quite amus­ing actu­al­ly) then here is the link. […]

  • HM8432 says:

    A young Oba­ma’s poet­ry com­pares to that of Carl Sand­burg!?! No, no, no, it doesn’t…not even close! What are you smok­ing Mr. Bloom?

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