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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