The theme of how a repressed society reacts to hysteria is perused in this drama. My personal belief is that people who entrust their lives to unproven dogma find themselves trapped in a form of repression. This includes the conservative outlook posted by the former reviewer of this book.
Lies, hypocrisy, and lust are themes that teenagers begin to encounter in high school. To refuse them the liberty to have complete access to literature is to lock down the developing, free and independent thinking mind. Thus, the banning and removal of books deemed "inappropiate" by biased standards results in the formation of a repressed society much like the Puritans in the early 1600's.
Ignorance may be bliss for you, but don't punish others because of your biased, uproven religious dogma. Our society will succeed if the next generation is given a chance to use their BRAINS. Our society will fail if the conservative coalition destroys independent thinking.
Conformism is your enemy.
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Like any form of excercise, reading Shakespeare isn't always easy, especially when you're just getting started. But if you stick with it, you're apt to find that it gets easier and the benefits become more apparent. Shakespeare's metaphorical language forces your mind to stay nimble and alert and his rich imagery gives you no other choice than to reconnect your soul to the world around you.
"The Tempest" is a lot of fun to read and it's not as weighty or ponderous as some of Shakespeare's dramas. It's a good choice to start with if you haven't read Shaksepeare before, or if you haven't read him since high school. The story involves Prospero, a duke who has been banished to a deserted island, along with his young daughter, Miranda. Propsero uses his magic to shipwreck a party of ex-compatriates who were originally responsible for his ousting. The ensuing drama deals with issues of loyalty, treachery, forgiveness, freedom, and the mind and body dichotomy. But the best part of it all is the vivid imagery. In the play's best moments, the words glow on the page.
"Now I have finished and am thinking about the dream book again. I have been looking into the literature and feel like a Celtic imp."Oh, how I am glad that no one, no one knows..." No one suspects that the dream is not nonsense but wish fulfillment."
Indeed, this is the premise of Freud's entire thesis: dreams are no more than repressed unconscious wishes, battling for expression and consummation.
In his own words, Freud had 'dared' to rally against the 'objections of severe science, to take the part of the ancients and of superstition.' In 1900, the official year of the book's publication, its reception, despite its provoctive title, was tepid, and in the course of six years, only sold 351 copies. Freud never gave up hope, and 30 years later, in the preface of the third English edition, he wrote, "It contains, even according to my present day judgement, the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make. Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once a lifetime.' In present day, one can question any Freud scholar about ~The Interpretation of Dreams~ and they will say the same thing: the book contains everything that 'is' psychoanalysis.
Anyone interested in the history of psychoanalysis and the mind of Sigmund Freud, reading this book is an absolute must. The reading runs along too, quite easily, as Freud was an excellent writer: his unique prose style even shines through some clumsy translations.
If you are interested in the book's process of development, I would suggest reading ~The Complete Letters of Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Fliess~; another gold mine for understanding the growth of psychoanalysis.
non-professional reader like me. This is the most important book written by Sigmund Freud and is in the Freudian tradition of writting some books which focus on difficult issues with a rather simple to understand language and fine style. The purpose of the author, in his own words, was to disturb the sleep of mankind.
This is the kind of book that will help you a lot in understand the mechanisms behind one's dreams and all the relationship between what Freud calls your "waking life" and your "dream-life". Before going on interpreting a lot of his and his patients dreams, something that took a lot of personal sacrifice to someone so jealous of his private life as Freud, the author introduces us to the then (1899) accepted theories of dreams, which basically took the dreams as irrational and confuse manifstations that didn't have nothing to do with our real or waking life.
The rationale Freud uses to demolish the anti-Freudian myths is powerful and convincing and he even suggests that reading the book will have some effect on our immediate dream life (it happened to me). Despite quite voluminous (700 pages) it deservs the attention and the effort of all of us who want to understand what dreams are all about. Here also, one reads the first paragraphs Freuds devotes to the Oedipus complex, and one has the opportunity to explore along with Freud the mechanisms of the UCS (unconscious) and of our Conscious activities, which some decades latter would lead to the concepts of Ego, Super-Ego and Id.
As a trademark the text is always polemical, remembering this same quality one faces in Marxists texts.
In all of these inquiries, perhaps none has been more thorough, more scientific, and more systematic than Dr. Sigmund Freud's "Interpretation of Dreams" (1900). In his book, Freud surveys the scientific research on dreams put forth so far (a remarkable achievement of scholarship in itself), and then puts forth his own theory of dreams.
Dreams, Freud claims, are nothing more than a fulfillment of an unconscious wish. He supports his theory with analysis from a selection of actual dreams from his patients and from his own experience.
Much of this book is entertaining and enlightening. Freud's good taste in literature is reflected in his own engaging style, and his sense of scholarly adventure is catching. Plus, he doesn't shy away from the big questions. How can we interpret dreams? How does a dream come about? What is the purpose of dreams? Why are all dreams wish fulfillments? What are the meaning of typical dreams, like losing teeth?--all these questions are tackled here. This is the book where Freud first puts forth his Oedipal theory.
Freud's theory is always insightful, if not totally accurate. He seems to try too hard to make all the data jive with his "wish-fulfillment" theory, and when it doesn't, he resorts to ludicrous arguments reminiscent of Anselm's ontological catastrophe. For example, when a dream is clearly not a wish fulfillment, Freud asserts that it has actually fulfilled a wish--a wish that his theory is wrong. Poppycock.
Despite these occasional stretches of reasonability, you'll come away from this book with a much greater understanding of the nature of dreams and the mental processes that bring dreams about. Highly recommended.
This is a good intro to Freud; consider also "Introductory Lectures on Psychoanaylsis."
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Although he's written many books on a host of specific subjects, "An Anatomy of Criticism" is Frye's magnum opus. In it, he outlines a general theory of literature-- what it is, how it is structured, and how it "works". These questions are answered in the volumes four essays, each of which approaches the subject from a different theoretical perspective: (1) a theory of modes", (2) a "theory of symbols", (3) a "theory of myths", and (4) a "theory of genres". Although these theories are not 100% unified into a larger structure, they are interrelated and complementary-- and, taken together, they do form what I believe can be called a (multifacted) "general theory of literature".
The book begins with a "Polemical Introduction". Here, Frye makes an argument that is at once simple and profound. For too long, he claims, literary criticism has revolved primarily around matters of taste, with critics pronouncing judgement on the relative merits of different authors and works. Frye believes that this has prevented literary criticism from really coming into its own as a serious scholarly activity-- and he wants to make literary scholarship a genuinely scholarly subject. The way to do this, he argues, is by eschewing any criticism whose goal is to attribute "merit" or "value" to works-- to say that they are good or bad. Instead, the true literary scholar needs to see himself as a scientist and to survey the field of literature as a whole, taking it on its own terms, and describing what seem to be the basic principles, structures, and unstated "laws" governing it. An important point here (and one that I think is especially compelling) is that Frye insists that literary scholarship needs to derive its understanding of literature from literature itself-- and not from other fields like psychoanalysis (e.g. Freudian/Jungian interpretations), from history (biograhical criticism), politics (Marxist criticism), etc. "An Anatomy of Criticism", Frye states, is his attempt to do just that-- to derive a theory of literature (or rather four complementary theories of literature) from literature itself, taking into account that literature, understood broadly, is work consisting primary of words, arranged in such a way as to create structures such as we call plots, characters, images, themes, etc.
In the first essay, the theory of modes, Frye articulates a theory of literature in terms of its level of realism, noting that this can exist in several degrees, which Frye expresses in terms of characters' relation of power to ordinary people and to the world. On the one extreme, we have myth, with gods who are nearly omnipotent, and on the other irony, with characters who are helpless and ineffectual. This is a short essay, and very readable, but is not as insightful as it could have been, if Frye had expanded it to discuss the mimetic level of the "world" in which the character exists as well.
The second essay is Frye's theory of symbols. It is, by far, the densest and most complicated of the four essays. It also has the most jargon, using lots of terms borrowed from Aristotelian and medieval criticism. Nonetheless, it is worth
reading, as Frye wrestles at length with question of what a symbol is, particularly within the context of literature. He also outlines the existence and workings of 5 different levels on which literary symbols work, raning from the literal (where individual words simply symbolize their mundane meanings) to the anagogic, which is an almost mystical level of symbolization-- a level that is more typically reserved for works of perceived religious or spiritually import (although Frye seems like he wants to acknowledge the possibility tha any work's symbols can be read on any of the five levels of symbolization).
The third essay is the "theory of myths". This is also the longest, and probably the most important essay here. Here, Frye outlines his theory that there are essentially four main plots, or "mythoi" (to use the Greek word for "plots") that literature uses-- comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony. Moreover, he notes, the various symbols, motifs, characters, and events that appear in all literary works can be understood within the context of a mythical opposition between a divine, ideal world (which he calls the "apocalyptic") and a demonic, nightmare world (which he calls "demonic). Contrary to what some folks believe, Frye does *not* use this to claim that literature is essentially "derived" from myths-- rather, he insists that those tales that we call myths simply present these structures in their clearest, baldest, most direct forms. In other forms of literature, the same structures exist, but they are displaced, toned down, or made incidental so as to fit into our basic canon of plausibility.
The fourth essay, the theory of genres, is perhaps the least successful of the four. Essentially, Frye seeks here to outline the difference among different types of literature (dramatic, lyric, epic, etc.) in terms of its performative aspect.
When all's said and done, it has to be said that Frye's book (now approx. 50 years old), is hardly the alpha and omega of literary criticism. Like all great books, it asks as many questions as it answers-- and like all general theories, it leaves the reader wondering whether it actually works for
all/most specific cases. And of course, there are many questions that aren't even discussed-- particularly about the world of non-western literature. Additionally, one wonders whether or not Frye's general theory can be expanded to include such basic aspects of literary interest as "style" and whether there is a place at all for biographical criticism within his
vision of what literary science could be. And of course, to someone reading this book today (a half-century after it was written), certain aspects of his argument and terminology may seem a bit outdated. Nonetheless, this is truly a milestone in literary theory and it is a standard by which other works have to be measured. If you haven't read this, I heartily recommend you do-- it may change the way you view literature as whole (for the better!). However, be warned-- this occasionally does get to be tough going (particularly essay 2). Those seeking a more 'accessible' version of Frye's ideas might turn to "The Educated Imagination"-- which waters them down a *lot* and leaves out a lot of the rigor and nuance-- but is still a passable introduction to the subject.
These are from the back cover of my copy of 'Anatomy of Criticism:'
...simply overpowering in the originality of its main concepts, and dazzling in the brilliance of its applications of them. Here is a book fundamental enough to be entitled 'Principia Critica.' -- Vivian Mercier, 'Commonweal'
...an attempt to give 'a synoptic view of the scope, theory, principles, and techniques of literary criticism,' ...the book is continuously informed by original and incisive thought, by fine perception, and by striking observations upon literature in general and upon particular works. -- 'Modern Language Review'
Does literary criticism need a conceptual universe of its own? Professor Frye has written a brilliantly suggestive and encyclopedically erudite book to prove that it does; and he has done his impressive best to provide a framework for this universe. His book is a signal achievement; it is tight, hard, paradoxical, and genuinely witty... [Frye] is the most exciting critic around; I do not think he is capable of writing a page which does not offer some sort of intellectual reward.' -- Robert Martin Adams, 'Hudson Review'
This is a brilliant but bristling book, an important though thoroughly controversial attempt to establish order in a disorderly field. ...Mr. Frye has wit, style, audacity, immense learning, a gift for opening up new and unexpected perspectives in the study of literature... It would be hopeless to attempt a brief summary of Mr. Frye's dazzlingly counterpointed classifications.' -- Thomas Vance, 'The Nation'
The above were written in the mid-1950s when the book first came out. Reaction to 'Anatomy of Criticism' continues. Some readers are honked off by Frye's notion of looking at literature as if it were a particular world with its own structures. Frye worked to develop coherent ways of thinking about books that went beyond value judgements grounded in social fashion or individual taste. He hoped to get criticism away from bickering over rankings of "greatness" and pronouncements of worth based on political or religious criteria.
Some of Frye's critics say his approach to criticism isn't enough of a science -- that he's optimistic about human nature, and he sees entities and landscapes that aren't real. That's certainly true. Others say his approach isn't artistically appreciative enough, that he's incapable of enjoying a butterfly till he's gassed it and filed it in the proper drawer. That's certainly hooey. Frye was as delighted and informed and transformed by his reading as the rest of us. It's just that if he saw a great system of thought in, say, the work of poet William Blake, he went on to show the extent of this thought, revealing how Blake's work carried echoes from other works all the way back to the Old Testament, and how Blake's vision extended far ahead of him all the way to Rimbaud's hell and Rilke's angels, Kafka's castle and James's ivory tower, Yeats's vortices and Proust's hermaphrodites, Eliot's dying god and Joyce's Finnegan. But this is becoming a review of Frye's 'Fearful Symmetry.'
I like Northrop Frye because he reminds me that literature can do more than report life with embellishments. The human imagination, and literature in particular, tells us not just what humanity is but what it can be, giving us the same bogus pitch over and over, outlining the impossible, appealing to our deepest wishes and fears, pulling us up by our bootstraps till we want to get up out of the mire and walk on water -- even to the point we begin devising ways of doing it. 'Anatomy of Criticism' is an effort to help us know what we get from reading literature and to show us it is knowledge we can do something with.
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I read MoV for a Bar Mitzvah project on Anti-Semitism. Naturally, my sympathies went to Shylock. However, even if i were Christian, i still would've favored Shylock. What many people believe is that Shylock is a cold hearted ruthless person and only wanted to get back at Antonio because Antonio was a Christian.
Not true. Shylock specifically says something along the lines off, "Why should I lend money to you? You spit on me, and call me a Jewish dog!" I'm not saying that Shylock was a good guy, but I am saying that he is not the villain.
In fact, the "Merchant of Venice," in this story is actually Shylock, not Antonio, contrary to popular belief. My thoughts on the story was that Shylock requested a pound of Antonio's flesh because he did not trust Antonio. Who would trust someone that spat on him? The fact is, Antonio doesn't pay him back in the end.
Now, there's always something else we have to put into consideration. Would the judge had given the "spill one ounce of Christian blood" verdict at the end if Shylock were not a Jew?
This is the mark of a great play. A play that really gets you thinking. But I encourage you, I beg of you, that when you read it or see it, please do not hold Shylock up to being a cold hearted villain. Hold Antonio up to that image. (joking, of course, Antonio's not a bad guy, he's just not a good guy.)
The Merchant of Venice is a lively and happy morality tale. Good triumphs over bad - charity over greed - love over hate.
There is fine comedy. Portia is one of Shakespeare's greatest women (and he ennobled women more than any playwright in history). There are moments of empathy and pain with all the major characters. There is great humanity and earthiness in this play. These things are what elevate Shakespeare over any other playwright in English history.
Plays should be seen - not read. I recommend you see this play (if you can find a theater with the courage and skill to do it). But if it is not playing in your area this season - buy the book and read it.
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Of course any intelligent person will disagree vociferously with much of Bloom's introduction, but I find some merit in it. Children's literature has been dumbed down by successful albeit formulaic outpourings by untalented writers like K. A. Applegate and the especially egregious Ann M. Martin (awful writer of the atrocious Baby-Sitters Club series and its spin-offs).
Bloom argues that children are natural readers until the instinct is destroyed by the media. I made the decision 10 years ago to exclude modern media from my children's lives, but I think they would still be the readers they are had tv been available; after all, their dad and I had access to television but have remained voracious readers. The combination of the shallowness of most television and movie offerings with the overabundance of commercials make books an easy favorite. Still I confess to not having acquired the habit of poetry until my late teens, and I'm not sure this collection will make that change for the new generation of devoted readers. I do agree with Bloom that the pleasure of memorizing good poetry is one we should not lose.
In summary, although I brought this book home from the library and enjoyed sharing my favorites with my children, I would never buy this overpretentious volume. The title alone makes me blush! (and my husband and I are both lapsed members of Mensa, so arguably "extremely intelligent). Like Bloom's Chelsea House volumes of criticism, this book really serves more to enrich Bloom's coffers and allow him yet one more forum to bewail the downfall of civilization than to appeal to any child, old-fashioned or moderan as he/she may be. Perhaps it's a good choice for a birthday or holiday present for the offspring of your least-favored, elitist parent.
It is why I have an aversion to the Beatrix Potter stories. I dislike Potter's crude writing (Graham Greene, no less, pointed out that she can barely write a proper sentence, and as for paragraphing, pphew!) How much better to put the well-written poem, fable or story in front of your child - no matter its or the child's age.
Now Bloom puts forth a treasure trove that would make even a pirate sit up and take notice. Culled from several centuries of writers, not all of whom had children in mind when they took quill to parchment, but rather, -and here is Bloom's point - an intelligent audience.
Many of the short entries here come from the nineteenth century. For good reason. It is easy to spot where there is much to be learned by the modern reader from these older tales and poems. For instance, how about the following (from Alice in Wonderland, or is it Alice Through The Looking Glass?) for instilling a good feeling of self-worth in a young girl?
"Hold your tongue," said the Queen turning purple.
"I won't!" said Alice
"Off with her head!" the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.
"Who cares for you?" said Alice. She had grown to her full size by this time.)
"You're nothing but a pack of cards!"
More than once in a lifetime, Bloom points out, every reader will grow to full size by crying out, to the right audience "Who cares for you? You're nothing but a pack of cards!"
Even the youngest child responds to this;
'The Owl and the Pussy- cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat. . . ."
Bloom omits the obscure, and the backbreaker, but includes what is illuminating, entertaining, and often humorous. There are thrills too. Sherlock Holmes makes a memorable appearance, and Guy de Maupassant's astonishing - and rarely published - story The Horla jumps off the page like a rediscovered Grimm's Faery Tale.
This is a book for your favourite child - and that could be you.
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Conrad successfully explores the concepts of bravery, cowardice,guilt and the alternative destinies that an individual may be driven to by these qualities.
The narrative can be a bit confusing at times as Marlowe relates the tale by recalling his encounters with Jim. The book reminded very much of Somerset Maugham's THE RAZOR"S EDGE" in style. However I believe that Maugham did a much better job of incorporating the narrator into the flow of the story. Overall LORD JIM is a wonderful classic novel that I highly recommend.
Lord Jim is my least favorite of the the four books I have read by Conrad. The story is rather scattered: a righteous young man does something wrong that he holds himself far too accountable for and the public shame the action brought him exaggerates the reality of his failure and makes him believe the rumors swirling around about his so-called cowardice. He spends the remainder of his life trying to reclaim his self-regard, mostly exaggerating his own importance in matters he hardly understands. His goal is to liberate the primitive people of the jungle paradise he inadvertantly finds himself in (due to an effort to escape every particle of the world he once inhabited) and his once high-minded ideals and regard for himself lead him to allow those people to consider him almost a God.
Jim likes being a God and considers himself a just and fair one. He treats everyone equally and gives to his people the knowledge of modern science and medicine as well as the everyday archetecture and understanding of trade that those primitive folks would otherwise be years from comprehending.
Of course everything ends in failure and misery and of course Jim's restored name will be returned to its demonic status, but the whole point of the novel seems to me that one can not escape their past. Jim, for all his courage in the line of fire has tried to avoid all memory of the once shameful act of his former life and by doing so becomes destined to repeat his mistakes.
Lord Jim is far more expansive than the story it sets out to tell, ultimately giving a warning on the nature of history and general humanity that only a writer of Conrad's statue could hope to help us understand.
If there is a flaw it is not one to be taken literally. Conrad was a master of structural experimentation and with Lord Jim he starts with a standard third person narrative to relate the background and personalities of his characters and then somehow merges this into a second person narrative of a man, years from the events he is relating, telling of the legend of Jim. It is a brilliant innovation that starts off a little awkward and might lead to confusion in spots as the story verges into its most important parts under the uncertain guidence of a narrator who, for all his insight into others, seems unwilling to relate his personal relevence to the story he is relating.
Nevertheless (with a heartfelt refrain), one of the best books I have ever read.
Ashamed and humiliated, Jim dedicates the rest of his life to two things: escape the memory of that fateful night, and redeem himself. This agonizing quest to recover his dignity in front of his own eyes leads him to hide in a very remote point in the Malayan peninsula, where he will become the hero, the strong man, the wise protector of underdeveloped, humble and ignorant people. Jim finds not only the love of his people, but also the love of a woman who admires him and fears the day when he might leave for good. The narrator, Captain Marlow (the same of "Heart of Darkness") talks to Jim for the last time in his remote refuge, and then Jim tells him that he has redeemed himself by becoming the people's protector. Oh, but these things are never easy and Jim will face again the specter of failure.
Conrad has achieved a great thing by transforming the "novel of adventures" into the setting for profound and interesting reflections on the moral stature of Man, on courage, guilt, responsibility, and redemption.
Just as in "Heart of Darkness" the question is what kinds of beings we are stripped of cultural, moral and religious conventions; just as in "Nostromo" the trustworthiness of a supposedly honest man is tested by temptation, in "Lord Jim" the central subject is dignity and redemption after failure.
A great book by one of the best writers.
I read the book, and then asked myself, "What is it about?" Surely this is not just one more collection of well known works destined to become a college text? Bloom says early in the book the "How to Read" consists of 1) Clearing the mind of Cant (eschew topics like multiculturism, sexism, racism); 2) Reading to improve yourself not others; 3) Reading to become a scholar, "a candle which the love and desire of all men will light"; 4) Reading like an inventor -- engage in "creative dyslexia"; 5) Reading to recover the ironic. Bloom believes the loss of irony is the death of reading.
What struck me about Bloom's collection is that almost without exception, these works include violence. Most of the violence stems from angry White males. Some are suffering rejection or loss, real or imagined -- ("La Belle.." by Keats, Milton's "Pardise Lost" (isn't Satan a White Male?), Hamlet, Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying", McCarthy's "Blood Meridian"). Some of the violence is induced by males, "Hedda Gabler" by Ibsen, Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment", "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Coleridge. Even Ellison's "Invisible Man" and Austen's "Emma" are affected. ("Emma" has a violent scene where angry whites who have been disenfranchised by the Enclosure Acts attack Emma and Miss Smith, however, Bloom does not discuss it.)
I personally like many of the writers Bloom includes in his anthology -- Dickensen, Austen, Keats, Whitman, and Wilde, but wonder why he did not include George Elliot, Virginia Wolfe, Nathanial Hawthorn, Henry David Thoreau, or Mark Twain in other than passing comment. I would not have chosen some of the examples of the author's works that he included, but it's his book and reflects his taste. And, I disagree with one or two of his interpretations. For example, I think Robert Groves was correct when he linked "La Belle.." by Keats to the White Goddess. Bloom discounts Groves interpretation, linking it to his troubles with his personal love life, but a few pages later Bloom implies the reader shouldn't get too "Freudian" when reading, which I think is exactly what had done with Groves and "La Belle..."
This book left me weary, unlike the much longer, recently realeasd collection of Lionel Trilling's essays "The Moral Obligation to be Intelligent." One wonders if Trilling had lived to the end of the 20th Century if he would have reflected such bitterness and nihilism. I think not.
This slim book is broken down into 5 parts : short stories, poems, novels, plays, and more novels. Sometimes there isn't enough commentary to make his picks interesting. I must say I do enjoy his commentary, though. I wanted more! He is impressively erudite.
Turgenev, Chekhov, Blake, Hemingway, Milton, Keats, O'Connor, Melville - the list goes on. He doesn't just like the popular classics. He seems to go after the works these illustrious authors aren't always given credit for and praise. I wanted more on 'Moby Dick' (one of MY favorites).
Put this one on the bedside table with a pen. It is obvious Bloom wanted to share his passion and the importance of reading to develop our internal selves. Read with all of your self and never stop.
My husband gave up reading "How to Read and Why" in disgust after the first five pages. That's really a shame because, despite his self-absorption, Mr. Bloom has a lot to say, and his pompous pedantry does calm down quite a bit after the prologue. I was fascinated with Mr. Bloom's thought process and his love for his subject matter is absolutely contagious. I was even enthralled by the chapter on poetry. I had never given any thought as to why (for me) poetry is so difficult to absorb and therefore, to appreciate. His advice to read, reread and memorize came to me as a revelation (despite my grade-school exercises memorizing poems).
The chapter on short stories was enlightening-I never understood the difference between a short story and a novel, aside from the length. I'm still not sure I have a perfect grasp of the difference, but I know it's more than just the length of the work... It'll be fun to start reading short stories looking for short story attributes. Mr. Bloom's analysis of Hamlet was also enlightening (a gross understatement). It reminded me of a college lecture-an enjoyable college lecture-and made me hungry for more.
My advice is, don't be put off by Mr. Bloom's style. He has much to offer. You may not agree with everything he has to say (or how he says it), but he'll sure make you think and probably learn something about yourself, and that's one of the best reasons to read!
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I have read Tanakh, the Jewish Publication Society's 1985 translation of the Torah, and have dipped into both its earlier 1917 version and the King James version. I have fought my way through Jonathon Kirsch's "Moses, A Life" and have delighted in reading and rereading Thomas Cahill's "The Gifts of the Jews"; and while I have enjoyed them, I've never really thought about the authors of the Old Testament. But David Rosenberg's translation of J's work, and Harold Bloom's wonderful commentary have brought a new sense of wonder towards my reading of these sacred works and has made them fresh and new to me.
I look forward to furthering my own study into my religion and my spirituality and would recommend highly to anybody who is interested in reviving their interest in the Torah to read "The Book of J" and take a new look at an old text.
The bulk of the book consists of David Rosenberg's new translation of the J text, that text having been separated and isolated from the other source texts of the Torah (first five books of the Bible).
The concluding section contains essays by Bloom on different characters and themes in the text, as well as some modern theoretical analysis of the text, isolated as it is in this volume from the greater mass of material in the Bible.
There is a brief appendix by Rosenberg with notes specifically geared toward translation issues and difficulties, as well as source materials.
First, for a little background: since the 1800's, much of Biblical textual scholarship and analysis has subscribed to the theory that most books were not first written as integrated wholes, but rather, consist of a library of amalgamated texts, largely put together by a person who goes by the title Redactor, or R, for short. This was (in terms of Hebrew Bible timelines) a relatively late occurrence. Prior to this, there were various sources, including the J (J for Jehovah, or Yahweh, which is what God is called in these texts), but also E (Elohist, which is what God is called in these texts), P (Priestly, which largely comprises Leviticus), and D (Deuteronomist). The separation of these strands is controversial, and will probably never cease to be. But with literary and linguistic analysis, certain traits can be discerned of each of the particular strands.
The most controversial conclusion which Bloom advances in this volume is that J is a woman, who lived in the courtly community of King David, and that her stories are not only a retelling of the ancient stories which would have been known commonly, but is also a satire and indictment of courtly life as she finds it.
'J was no theologian, and rather deliberately not a historian.... There is always another side of J: uncanny, tricky, sublime, ironic, a visionary of incommensurates, and so the direct ancestor of Kafka, and of any writer, Jewish or Gentile, condemned to work in Kafka's mode.'
Bloom's assertion that J is a woman consists of several 'telling' ideas, not least of which that the J text seems to have no heroes, only heroines.
'Sarai and Rachel are wholly admirable, and Tamar, in proportion to the narrative space she occupies, is very much the most vivid portrait in J. But Abram, Jacob, and Moses receive a remarkably mixed treatment from J.'
Also, on the basis of sensitivity to subject and social vision, Bloom argues for a female J. Of course, women in positions of authority (as any courtly author or historian would have to be) were very rare in ancient Middle Eastern culture, but not unheard of; of course, literacy rates for women were incredibly low, and there has always been the unspoken assumption that, naturally, the authors of all ancient texts are men.
Whether or not you subscribe to this (and I must confess, I am less than convinced, clever and interesting and thought-provoking as Bloom's essay may be), both on the person of the author of J, as well as many of his other equally unorthodox views, this text still provides much food for thought, and an interesting side text with which to read the accounts in Genesis and Exodus.
Reading Rosenberg's translation is, likewise, an interesting exercise. I would wish for footnote or some key to be able to follow along in the Bible, but Rosenberg's purpose was to let J stand as its own text, on its own merits, and thus, without interruption, he has done that here. A refreshing look at familiar texts, Rosenberg's new translation will give things to think and argue about for some time.