Posts Tagged ‘Harold Bloom’

Do Nina Kossman’s new translations of Tsvetaeva capture her “doom-eager splendor”? See what you think.

Saturday, November 7th, 2020
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Kossman at the Tsvetaeva Museum in Moscow.

Twenty years ago, critic Harold Bloom wrote to the young poet Nina Kossman to tell her that her “intensely eloquent” translations of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva manage to “capture the doom-eager splendor of a superbly gifted poet.” W.S. Merwin wrote that these are “direct, strong, audible translations,” adding, “I hear Tsvetaeva’s voice, more of it, and in a new pitch, which makes something clear in her poems that I had only guessed at before.”

Her most recent collection, Other Shepherdswas published earlier this year by Poets & Traitors Press. Kossman’s collection pairs about a hundred poems, half by Tsvetaeva and half by her fellow Muscovite translator. Kossman pairs them “not in competition but with humility,” making of this doubling a new kind of conversation. As she writes in the Preface, “The aim is not to emulate her but to create a dialogue between her poem and mine, a resonance possible not only between two poets but between two eras. My goal is not to aspire to her heights, which are unscalable, as they are hers and no one else’s, but to approach her and to speak.”

As for the title, she writes: “Other Shepherds comes from my translation of Tsvetaeva’s poem which ends with, “There is an island—thank God!— / Where I don’t need a tambourine, / Where black wool/ Hangs from every fence. Yes / —There are in the world black flocks, / Other shepherds.” (1920).”

“Although the poem’s protagonist is addressing a lover, I took the last line slightly out of its amorous context and used it in a broader sense, in a kind of social, or rather, existential sense,” she explains. “I don’t believe that I have sinned against the poet by looking at her poem this way; in fact, I think the poem is quite amenable to this interpretation, especially if we look at the ending of the penultimate stanza. ‘In your flock there was no / Sheep blacker than I’ which resonates far beyond the personal context of a rejected woman speaking to her lover.”

A “black sheep,” for sure.

Nina Kossman was born in “the same Communist dystopia that, a few decades before my birth, led Marina Tsvetaeva to commit suicide by hanging.” She writes that it was a place where “‘being different,’ an uncomfortable feeling in any society at any time, led to much more than the usual social ostracism; where comrades were clearly divided into ‘white sheep’ and ‘black sheep,’ and where the black sheep didn’t end up very well.”

“Since I left the Soviet Union as a child, my experience of ‘black-sheep-ness’ was somewhat limited, but I have been very aware of my parents’ experience, particularly that of my mother—a Jew, a daughter of an ‘enemy of the people,’ a student of genetics in the era of Lysenko (the official Soviet biologist who rejected genetics), and thus thrice an outsider in the society that didn’t tolerate outsiders,” she explains.

“The title has another meaning too. Having lived in two so- called ‘superpowers,’ i.e. having spent my childhood in the Soviet Union, where personal freedoms were curtailed, and my youth and adulthood in ‘something of its opposite’ (my way of referring to the US as a teenager) with its seemingly unlimited personal freedoms, I found both wanting. Being a ‘black sheep’ in the Soviet Union was not only painful psychologically. It pushed you to the edge of a very real abyss, since a threat of physical extermination was real. In the US, being a black sheep in a herd, a society where outsiders are accepted, yields only psychological pain. And so an immigrant from the former Soviet Union swings between these two. These are two very different kinds of ‘black-sheep-ness,’ one hard core and the other soft. The black sheep consciousness continues in the so-called free world, attenuated, without the attendant fear of physical extermination.”

Do her poem pairings do the job? See a sample of the pairings below:

 

“Poets form each other”: Hollis Robbins on the African-American sonnet

Friday, August 7th, 2020
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Sonnet fan Robbins.

We’ve written about Hollis Robbins before, here and here, but only in her connection with the late great Prof. Richard Macksey of Johns Hopkins University, who died last year. Now we have a chance to blow our ever-so-tiny horn about her new book, Forms of Contention: Influence and the African American Sonnet Tradition, published this summer with the University of Georgia Press. 

Robbins, the Dean of Arts and Humanities at Sonoma State University, writes in her introduction about this intriguing subject:

Ralph Ellison argues, “while one can do nothing about choosing one’s relatives, one can, as an artist, choose one’s ‘ancestors.’ African American sonnet writers have clearly seen in the sonnet tradition a literary past that speaks to the black experience, a past involving shackles, desire, protest, memorial, the possibility of play and subversion, and a long genealogy of practitioners… Few scholars ask why white poets write in the sonnet form; the answer comes best from sonnet-writers themselves: the sonnet is the valued coin; the sonnet is permanence; the dead leaves of the past are ever present to be overwritten, signified upon, contended with.

She notes that Harold Bloom, scholar of influence, claims that every poem “is a misinterpretation of a parent poem.” “Poets form each other, which means, in practical terms, that strong young poets must ‘wrestle’ with their poetic forebears in order to ‘clear imaginative space’ for fresh new poetry.”

Robert Hayden knew a thing or two about sonnets.

Here’s one example from the Jamaican poet Edward Baugh. He shares an ancestor with James Baldwin. Remember Shakespeare’s sonnet 127?

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name.
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame.

Here’s Baugh’s rejoinder, in his 1965 poem, “There’s a Brown Girl in the Ring”:

When I speak of this woman I do not mean
To indicate the Muse or abstract queen
But to record the brown fact of her being,
The undiluted blackness of her hair
And that I lightly kissed her knee
And how her feet were shy before my stare.
It may be that I praise her memory here
Because she is indeed but allegory
Of meanings greater than herself or me
Of which I am instinctively aware;
But may such meanings never be a care
For that fine head, and may my glory be
That blood and brain responded well to slim
Shy feet and smoothest knees and most black hair.

Another indispensible sonneteer and his poem: Robert Hayden’s sonnet “Frederick Douglass,” published in the Atlantic Monthly in February 1947:

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to our children,
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,
this man, superb in love and logic, this man
shall be remembered—oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives
fleshing his dream of the needful, beautiful thing.

What was Harold Bloom working on at life’s end? This.

Sunday, October 20th, 2019
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His dreams were still in Yiddish.

What was Harold Bloom writing at 89? According to his friend, the writer, translator, and publisher Lucas Zwirner, Bloom had started a new book  called Immortality, Resurrection, Redemption: A Study in Speculation,  exploring the afterlife in the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman, and Islamic traditions. Zwirner discusses it in The Paris Review here.

“Being with Harold always felt historic, momentous,” he writes. “The world around him was thick with thoughts and feelings, dense. The people we encounter in writing pierce us, their inner lives give us more life. For those of us who were lucky enough to study with him, Harold let that life out. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t finish his book.”

America’s legendary lit critic never finished the book, of course. He died last Monday. In his last email to his friend on September 18, Bloom discussed the book, and took on Silicon Valley, too:

In the early autumn of 2019, the denial of death by Silicon Valley technocrats has been an organized phenomenon for about fifteen years. There are varied cults that keep burgeoning of which the most notorious is Terasem, founded on a science fiction novel I could not finish. Satellite dishes have been set up to record the mindsets of the new faithful and beam them out into the great beyond, in the pious hope that amiable aliens will receive them and descend with fresh panaceas to sooth the fear of dying.

Does the world grow better or worse, or does it just get older? There is nothing new under the sun. Cultivating deep inwardness depends upon the reading of the world’s masterpieces of literary works and religious scriptures. Not that Silicon Valley would be at all interested, but I would prescribe that all of them learn to read Shakespeare as he needs to be read. Self and soul would then return and take the place of fashionable evasions of the contingencies that have always shaped human lives.

Read the rest here. (And hat tip to Frank Wilson.)

A childhood chum.

And over at the Times of Israel, Bloom discusses how he still dreams in his first language, Yiddish. He was the child of Jewish Orthodox immigrants from Ukraine and Belarus: “As a very small child, three, four years old, I was sent to Sholem Aleichem schools… they were all over the Bronx. So, pretty good early education that was strictly in Yiddish… But to this day my English is very curious because I learned it only through the eye and not through the ear. I didn’t, in fact, hear English spoken until I was about 5 and a half. I was a preternaturally early reader and at 5 or 6, I was already reading Shakespeare and trying to read Milton and so on. But English is, of course, a very peculiar language, as Bernard Shaw complains, the orthography and the pronunciation have nothing in common. So to this day, I speak my own curious, inflected English. It doesn’t sound like anybody else’s. So as far as I’m concerned, I still dream in Yiddish.”

Read it here.

R.I.P. Harold Bloom (1930-2019): “He saw reading as a great human enterprise, an engagement of the passions, a heroic endeavor.”

Monday, October 14th, 2019
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One of the nation’s preeminent literary critics, Harold Bloomdied today at 89 (we’ve written about him here). One of his students, Ann Kjellberg, publisher of Book Post, remembers her time as a Yale undergraduate in the 1980s, when Harold Bloom taught a famous course with John Hollander called “Originality.”

“During office hours with me, Bloom once buried his head in his hands in despair that he was momentarily unable to remember the opening lines of Yeats’s ‘Per Amica Silentia Lunae.’ He blamed the fact that he had been briefly haunted by the death of his mother.”

Here are the lines, for others who do not know them by heart:

On the grey sand beside the shallow stream,
Under your old wind-beaten tower, where still
A lamp burns on above the open book
That Michael Robartes left, you walk in the moon,
And, though you have passed the best of life, still trace,
Enthralled by the unconquerable delusion,
Magical shapes.

She continued: “It meant so much to me, in those days when some sort of ‘science’ was supposed to direct the reading of literature, that he saw reading as a great human enterprise, an engagement of the passions, a heroic endeavor.”

On Facebook, the writer Marat Grinberg posted an email he received from Bloom a dozen years ago:

From arts journalist and author Thomas Gladysz: “Back in high school I had a couple of jobs, and with my spending money I bought a copy of The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, with commentary by Harold Bloom. It cost $7.95, a not inconsiderable sum for a softcover book back in the 1970s. I treasured it, and held onto it all these years. In the early 2000s, I managed to get this famous academic to drop by the bookstore where I worked to sign copies of his new books. I admit I was a little intimidated by this prolific and bestselling literary critic and “monster” of reading. (“Yes, I do read 400 to 500 pages a day,” he replied when I asked him about his renowned ability.) I slipped my copy of Blake’s poems into the pile for him to sign. It made him pause – and I told him it was my personal copy. He smiled just a bit. Yesterday, Bloom died. His body of work lives on.”

From poet, playwright, translator Nina Kossman: “Years ago he wrote me a letter about my translations of Tsvetaeva (my second book of translations). The letter is short but memorable. I scanned it, and so here it is.”

A few Tweets below. We’ll be adding to the stack:

What happens when Joshua Cohen meets Harold Bloom? “The function of criticism now is to abandon politics.”

Thursday, August 16th, 2018
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“Rusticating mentor.”

Novelist Joshua Cohen took a train to Connecticut to interview legendary litcritic Harold Bloom: “As my train dragged its way through Bloom’s native Bronx — and continued upriver through the rising heat of Westchester and into that great humid smog-cloud that covers all of Connecticut beyond the stockbroker coast — I had the unsettling feeling that I’d been cast in some straight-to-YouTube adaptation of one those classic scenes of literary visitation, wherein a young bookish type makes a pilgrimage from the stifling city to pay homage to a rusticating mentor.” 

Here’s how the interview began:

Joshua Cohen: It’s an honor to meet you, Harold. You’re being very generous and kind and —

Harold Bloom: Okay, okay, enough. Sit down.

Cohen: I’m sitting.

“Young bookish type.”

Bloom: I was thinking all day, what questions will you ask? You’re recording?

Cohen: I am. I’m recording on my phone — and we might as well begin with that, because one of the things I wanted to speak with you about was memory. Everyone calls this “a phone,” but my generation in particular considers it as something more like an external brain. It stores our sounds, our images, our books. I need this extra storage space, this extra memory, to compensate for my own. But, famously, you don’t. You remember everything.

Bloom: Our backgrounds are similar, Joshua, but remember: We’ve lived half a century apart. So I can’t speak of technology. But my memory is a freak — this is true. I had it from when I was a little one, growing up in the Bronx, and going to the Sholem Aleichem schools. My first language was Yiddish. There was no English in our house, or even really in our part of the Bronx.

Puzzling.

It continued: 

Bloom: Kafka is the ultimate Jewish puzzle.

Cohen : I’ve always been troubled by his story “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse-Folk” — which was the last story he ever wrote. And it famously ends with a line that says, in essence, to be forgotten is to be redeemed. I know you’ve written about this line: in your interpretation, it’s not a melancholy statement. Because though the singer might be forgotten, her song will be remembered: in fact, the more the song will be remembered, the more the singer can be forgotten, because her art remains secure. I agree with your interpretation, though I’d point out that when I reread this story last year, I found myself baffled and touched by the faith that Kafka has in “the community”: the “mouse-folk” who will preserve Josephine’s song. What do you make of Kafka’s belief in a “community” that doesn’t just preserve its culture, but incarnates it?

Bloom: It makes me unhappy. Whatever Jewish culture is, or is not, it will vanish with the last Jew. And who knows when that will be?

It ended: 

Cohen: And what about criticism — what is its relationship to the preservation, or survival, of our culture? If criticism becomes solely concerned with the political — the here and now — will there be no world-to-come?

Bloom: The function of criticism now is to abandon politics. Whatever the voice that is great in us is, it relates to perception and knowledge.

That’s the preview. Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books here

Stanford celebrates Frankenstein on the bicentennial of its publication – be there on Jan. 24!

Monday, January 1st, 2018
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Artist: Lynd Ward, provided by the Estate of Lynd Ward

Today is more than the usual New Year’s Day. It marks the bicentennial of the very day the 20-year-old Mary Shelley published her masterpiece, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus on January 1, 1818. It was an immediate popular success. The book would rock the world, and inspire films, theater adaptations, television shows, video games, sequels, and spinoffs. But today’s public conception of the hero may owe more to Boris Karloff‘s iconic 1931 film role than to the “the Creature” that Shelley created in her classic, with its complicated and troubling humanity.

Hence, the winter “Another Look” event spotlights Shelley’s Frankenstein. The discussion will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 24, at the Bechtel Conference Center. Frankenstein will be a special two-hour event with four panelists. So far, we’ve seen a lot of interest in this one from the medical and technology  communities – at Stanford and beyond. We’re bracing for a full house.

Another Look’s winter event on Frankenstein is part of Stanford’s year-long celebration of the bicentennial of the book’s publication. Shelley’s tale has proved timely, even prophetic, given our current concerns about artificial intelligence, stem cells, and animal-to-human transplants. Frankenstein explores the role of conscience in creation, and asks: What does it mean to be human? Is it wise to play God? What are the creator’s moral obligations towards his or her creation?

While the campus-wide Frankenstein@200 will explore the moral, scientific, sociological, ethical and spiritual dimensions of the book, Another Look will focus on the book as a literary work: a flowering of the romantic imagination, as well as a pioneering landmark in science fiction.

According to critic Harold Bloom, “The greatest paradox and most astonishing achievement of Mary Shelley’s novel is that the monster is more human than his creator. This nameless being, as much a modern Adam as his creator is a modern Prometheus, is more lovable than his creator and more hateful, more to be pitied and more to be feared, and above all able to give the attentive reader that shock of added consciousness in which aesthetic recognition compels a heightened realization of the self.”

Acclaimed author Robert Pogue Harrison will moderate the discussion. The Stanford professor who is Another Look’s director writes regularly for The New York Review of Books and hosts the popular talk show, Entitled Opinions. He will be joined by three panelists who have all taught Frankenstein at Stanford: French Prof. Dan Edelstein, Classics Prof. Andrea Nightingale, and former Stanford fellow Inga Pierson.

The panelists will be focusing on the original 1818 version of the novel, rather than the later 1831 edition – and discussing some of the differences between the two. You can find the Oxford edition of the original at the Stanford Bookstore, Kepler’s in Menlo Park, and Bell’s Books in Palo Alto. (But don’t worry if you’ve read a different edition!)

The Another Look book club takes on short classics that have been forgotten, neglected, or overlooked—or may simply not have received the attention they merit. The selected works are short, in order to encourage the involvement of Bay Area readers whose time may be limited. Subscription at anotherlook.stanford.edu is encouraged for regular updates and details on the selected books and events.

All Another Look events are free and open to the public – and please bring your friends!