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South Atlantic Modern Language Association

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Wallace Jackson
Reviewed work(s):
The Breaking of the Vessels by Harold Bloom
Source: South Atlantic Review, Vol. 50, No. 3, Convention Program Issue (Sep., 1985), pp. 90-93
Published by: South Atlantic Modern Language Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3199434
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Book Reviews Book Reviews
came "as close as
possible
to the
interpretation Euripides may
have
given
of the ancient
myth
...
blending
the ideals of classical
poetry
with
modern
art
"(189-90).
In her introduction Petrovska reminds us that there are no twentieth-
century plays
based on the
Merope
theme. One
wonders, then,
why
she
has chosen in her conclusion- a sort of curious addendum to her work-
to discuss Camus's Le Malentendu. The
play's
relation to Greek
tragedy
(in
particular
to
anagnorisis)
and to the
question
of maternal love is
striking
enough,
but her final
chapter
seems strained and
unconvincing.
It
perhaps
would have been more
valid,
at this
juncture,
to
explain
in more
detail how the
story
of
Merope
succeeds as a
tragedy
of events and
situation but
fails,
in a more universal
sense,
because it does not
express
any
of the
principal
conflicts in the condition of man.
For the
comparatist, particularly,
Petrovska's volume is a welcome
contribution to the
study
of an
important
but
neglected
motif. It is
unfortunate that the
book,
badly
in need of
editing,
is flawed
by
a
sometimes
quaint,
sometimes awkward
diction,
as well as
by
a
pedestrian
tone that diminishes the effect of an otherwise
competent study.
James
H.
Davis,
Jr., University of
Georgia
D The
Breaking of
the Vessels.
By
Harold Bloom.
Chicago: University
of
Chicago Press,
1982. i-ix + 107
pp.
De Sade
asks,
"What able-bodied man ... does not wish ... to bedevil
his
ecstacy?"
Rage
and
pleasure being,
in his
view, correlative,
I am
reminded,
reading Bloom,
that
poetic ecstacy
is
always (if
the
poet
is
strong)
bedeviled. I do not mean of course to insist too much
upon
a
kinship
of
violence,
though anyone might
notice the daemonic
(sexual-
ized)
that underlies Bloomian
struggle. Strong
sons
wrestling
with
strong
fathers for
possession
of the muse-mother is the arena in which
poems
are
created. In this fact is Bloom's
beginning.
For him all acts--all
poetic
acts--are variations of
displacement
and
substitution,
and
poets
are
always journeying
toward an
origin they
must revise in order to
possess.
The
programmatic possibilities
are summed
up by Kierkegaard:
"He
who is
willing
to work
gives
birth to his own father"
(The Anxiety
of Influence
26).
Movement is thus from
anxiety
to
power (which
is
health),
an
overcoming
of belatedness
(which
is inevitable and in which
anxiety
resides),
and thus to the
worship
of "the beautiful lie of the
Imagination"
(A
Map of Misreading 66).
The relation of
poet
to
poet
is
always
antitheti-
cal,
and all
meanings
derived from the
precursor
are
usurped
from him or
imposed by
him. The former condition defines
strength;
the latter
came "as close as
possible
to the
interpretation Euripides may
have
given
of the ancient
myth
...
blending
the ideals of classical
poetry
with
modern
art
"(189-90).
In her introduction Petrovska reminds us that there are no twentieth-
century plays
based on the
Merope
theme. One
wonders, then,
why
she
has chosen in her conclusion- a sort of curious addendum to her work-
to discuss Camus's Le Malentendu. The
play's
relation to Greek
tragedy
(in
particular
to
anagnorisis)
and to the
question
of maternal love is
striking
enough,
but her final
chapter
seems strained and
unconvincing.
It
perhaps
would have been more
valid,
at this
juncture,
to
explain
in more
detail how the
story
of
Merope
succeeds as a
tragedy
of events and
situation but
fails,
in a more universal
sense,
because it does not
express
any
of the
principal
conflicts in the condition of man.
For the
comparatist, particularly,
Petrovska's volume is a welcome
contribution to the
study
of an
important
but
neglected
motif. It is
unfortunate that the
book,
badly
in need of
editing,
is flawed
by
a
sometimes
quaint,
sometimes awkward
diction,
as well as
by
a
pedestrian
tone that diminishes the effect of an otherwise
competent study.
James
H.
Davis,
Jr., University of
Georgia
D The
Breaking of
the Vessels.
By
Harold Bloom.
Chicago: University
of
Chicago Press,
1982. i-ix + 107
pp.
De Sade
asks,
"What able-bodied man ... does not wish ... to bedevil
his
ecstacy?"
Rage
and
pleasure being,
in his
view, correlative,
I am
reminded,
reading Bloom,
that
poetic ecstacy
is
always (if
the
poet
is
strong)
bedeviled. I do not mean of course to insist too much
upon
a
kinship
of
violence,
though anyone might
notice the daemonic
(sexual-
ized)
that underlies Bloomian
struggle. Strong
sons
wrestling
with
strong
fathers for
possession
of the muse-mother is the arena in which
poems
are
created. In this fact is Bloom's
beginning.
For him all acts--all
poetic
acts--are variations of
displacement
and
substitution,
and
poets
are
always journeying
toward an
origin they
must revise in order to
possess.
The
programmatic possibilities
are summed
up by Kierkegaard:
"He
who is
willing
to work
gives
birth to his own father"
(The Anxiety
of Influence
26).
Movement is thus from
anxiety
to
power (which
is
health),
an
overcoming
of belatedness
(which
is inevitable and in which
anxiety
resides),
and thus to the
worship
of "the beautiful lie of the
Imagination"
(A
Map of Misreading 66).
The relation of
poet
to
poet
is
always
antitheti-
cal,
and all
meanings
derived from the
precursor
are
usurped
from him or
imposed by
him. The former condition defines
strength;
the latter
90 90
South Atlantic Review
weakness. It is
obvious,
I
suppose,
that Bloom's own
predecessor-pro-
genitor
is
Freud,
the father who has instructed him in the
reality
and
pervasiveness
of
trauma,
the root
reality
of Bloomian belief Thus one
sins
against
the
past
because the
past
sins
against
oneself
merely by being
what it
is,
and the
present
suffers the diminished sense of its own
humanity, being something
less than it
might
have been were it not for an
accident of
begetting.
From the various
strategies
of
revisionary
ratios
arise the
presences
that move
through
Bloom's
myth
as its chief enacters:
Oedipus,
Adam, Prometheus,
Narcissus. All such radical heroes are
radical
victims,
the latter
partly
at least because of the extensiveness of
guilt
in Bloom's
philosophy
of
composition
and the exercise of the
poetic
will which
is,
"in each
strong poet,
his
maturely
internalized
aggressive-
ness"
(Anxiety 119).
Perhaps
there should be some
place
in Bloom's
mythology
for the
single poetic figure composed
of a Theotormon and an
Oothoon;
that
is,
self and antithetical self bound back to
back,
a
tragic figure
of Siamese
magnitude,
which ever and forever denies the freedom of the
ephebe.
But
there is no such
figure
in
Bloom; rather,
there is the
ever-enduring
aggression
of
misprision,
the
paradoxical ground
of
poetic
freedom.
The
Anxiety
of
Influence
told us that in the rabbinical tradition the
cherubim
"symbolize
the terror of God's
presence" (37).
"The
Covering
Cherub ... is a demon of
continuity;
his baleful charm
imprisons
the
present
in the
past" (39).
In
literary history
such
presence
is what is
meant
by "influence,"
but influence is what Bloom calls the
"blocking
figure
of the Precursor"
(Anxiety 152).
Thus as
Covering
Cherub or
Protestant God the result is the same: the isolation of"His children in the
terrible double bind of two
great injunctions:
'Be like Me' and 'Do not
presume
to be too like Me"'
(152).
Bloomian
psychodrama thereby
resembles a Blakeian
nightmare
of
spectres:
of love that is
really
more like
hate,
of
acceptance
that is
really
more like
rejection.
The
Oedipus
who
must
go
back to
origins
and the Adam who must
go
forward to his own
possibility
are heroic twins of Bloom's
vision,
defeating
in turn
(or hoping
to do
so), Sphinx
and
Covering
Cherub.
The title of the
present
work is taken from Isaac Luria's sixteenth-
century theory
of
creation,
explained
in A
Map of Misreading
as
having
three
stages,
the second of
which,
Shevirath
hakelim,
is "the
breaking-
apart-of-the-vessels,
a vision of
creation-as-catastrophe" (5).
That
is,
the
"breaking-apart
and
replacing
of one form
by another,
which
imagisti-
cally
is a
process
of substitution"
(6).
Substitution,
I take
it,
is consistent
with
usurpation,
a
projection
of the self in another variation of the
revisionary trope.
In A
Map of Misreading
there is a
particularly
brilliant
argument
in the
91
Book Reviews
chapter,
"Milton and His
Predecessors,"
which is the
germ
of the new
book. The earlier work elucidates Milton's debt to the
Bible,
to
Homer,
Virgil,
Ovid,
and
others,
but it is not allusion in which Bloom is
interested,
but rather the
transumptive
mode
by
which successor is made
precursor, assuming thereby
a
priority
that is not his
except
as he has
commanded it to be his: "The Wild
Men,
Polyphemus,
the
Cyclops,
and
the
crudely proud Orgoglio,
as well as the Catholic and Circassian
champions,
Tancredi and
Argantes,
all become late and lesser versions of
Milton's earlier and
greater
Satan"
(135).
"Ratios,"
the first
chapter
in The
Breaking of
the
Vessels,
is a rationalization of
revisionary
ratios and of
power,
a radical
aspect
of which I have
just
cited in the Miltonic reversal.
Obviously, energy
and life are correlative
terms,
even as the human
increases
according
to the
displacing power
it commands. The more
successful the
revisionary
ratio the more
complete
the overthrow of
precursor
and the radical role reversal that is
implicit
in Milton's
coup.
Suffering,
it would
seem,
is also a
transumptive mode,
and it is what is
imposed upon
the
precursor.
"Wrestling Sigmund" (chapter two)
advances the
position.
It is a
meditation on
anteriority,
a
breaking
of cultural vessels such that the
"Freudian
tropes
have assumed the status of
priority,
while
nearly
all
precedent tropes
seem
quite
belated in
comparison" (63).
None of the
earlier six
revisionary
ratios offered a
victory quite
this
complete, though
"Apophrades,
or the return of the dead" seems to
provide
a
modestly
proximate
version: "as
though
the later
poet
himself had written the
precursor's
characteristic work"
(Anxiety 16).
To
my
mind the most
impressive chapter
is the third and
last,
a
lovely
exploration
of the
trope
of blankness
(chiefly)
within the
transumptive
chain
leading
from Milton to
Coleridge
to Emerson to Stevens. Tran-
sumption
is in fact a form of
apophrades,
for "the ratio of
making
the
precursors
return from the dead in one's own
colors,
or one's own
blank,
is
obviously
related to the
image
of
temporality,
or earliness balanced
against
belatedness,
that marks
every
Miltonic and
post-Miltonic
in-
stance of
transumption" (88).
Yet I take this invocation as
equally
an
acknowledgment
of
precursor power,
a restoration of the
livingness
of
precursor
within what a more conventional critic would call tradition and
attribute to
influence.
Bloom means
it,
I
think,
as a
haunting,
a
figuration
in which the successor
speaks
his own
strength
or,
as the case
might
be
(and
is, in the blank
Coleridgean eye
of
Deqection),
a confession of
precursor power
and
ephebe
weakness.
We
move,
in
brief,
between the
polarities
of
displacement
and haunt-
ing;
to
dislodge
the
precursor
is to suffer his
return,
even to commemo-
rate it in such a
way
that the successor is defined
(to
himself and to
others)
92
South Atlantic Review South Atlantic Review
by
the
recognition
and
transumptive
enlistment of the
precursor trope.
It
is not
news,
I
think,
that Bloom's contexts
gravitate always
toward crisis.
Wrestling together, Jacob
and the
angel
create a
blessing,
"the name of
Israel"
(57), though Jacob
suffers the wound that sends him on his
way
"limping
on his
hip" (55). Coleridge wrestling
Milton suffers
only
the
wound, forcing
the
cry:
"And still I
gaze
-
and with how blank an
eye!"
The
transumptive
series
beginning
with Milton's "universal blank"
("Na-
ture's works to me
expunged
and
razed,
/ And wisdom at one entrance
quite
shut
out") compels
the
Coleridgean anguish:
"I see them all so
excellently
fair,
/ I
see,
not
feel,
how beautiful
they
are!" Bloom com-
ments:
"Coleridge
thus refuses
transumption,
and
accepts poetic
and
human defeat"
(85).
Yet defeat is
(inevitably?)
voiced as an
acknowledg-
ment of
precursor power. Perhaps
Bloom comes close to
explaining why
this is so:
"Poems,
as I
apprehend
them,
are not
tropes
of
being
or of
knowledge,
but rather are
tropes
of action or of desire"
(103). Maybe so,
but
meditating Coleridge's
refusal one might add that
they
are also
tropes
for the failures of
desire,
for the blankness
within,
for
blessing
denied,
wound received.
Not recommended for weak readers.
WallaceJackson,
Duke
University
D Texts
of
Terror:
Literary-Feminist
Readings of
Biblical Narratives.
By Phyllis
Trible.
Philadelphia:
Fortress
Press,
1984. xiv + 128
pp.
Paper
$9.65.
L Women Writers and the
City.
Essays
in Feminist
Literary
Criticism. Edited
by
Susan Merrill
Squier.
Knoxville:
University
of Tennessee
Press,
1984.
306
pp.
Cloth
$22.95; Paper
$9.95.
As
literary
criticism the slim volume Texts
of
Terror is
simple,
neat,
carefully
executed,
and
absolutely shocking. Phyllis
Trible has taken four
stories of women in the Old Testament and
subjected
them to
rigorous
rhetorical
analysis
and a feminist
perspective.
This method of
analysis
is
conventional,
but the combination of close
reading
of the text and
interpretation by
a
contemporary
feminist mind
produces
tales that have
not been told before and
certainly
would never be told in
patriarchal
hermeneutics.
Trible
explains
that her "task is to tell sad stories as
[she] hear[s]
them."
Each of her sad stories features a victimized woman from the sacred
scriptures
of
synagogue
and church. As Trible
explains
in her introduc-
tion,
"These narratives
yield
four
portraits
of
suffering
in ancient Israel:
Hagar,
the slave
used, abused,
and
rejected;
Tamar,
the
princess raped
and
discarded;
an unnamed
woman,
the
concubine,
raped,
murdered,
by
the
recognition
and
transumptive
enlistment of the
precursor trope.
It
is not
news,
I
think,
that Bloom's contexts
gravitate always
toward crisis.
Wrestling together, Jacob
and the
angel
create a
blessing,
"the name of
Israel"
(57), though Jacob
suffers the wound that sends him on his
way
"limping
on his
hip" (55). Coleridge wrestling
Milton suffers
only
the
wound, forcing
the
cry:
"And still I
gaze
-
and with how blank an
eye!"
The
transumptive
series
beginning
with Milton's "universal blank"
("Na-
ture's works to me
expunged
and
razed,
/ And wisdom at one entrance
quite
shut
out") compels
the
Coleridgean anguish:
"I see them all so
excellently
fair,
/ I
see,
not
feel,
how beautiful
they
are!" Bloom com-
ments:
"Coleridge
thus refuses
transumption,
and
accepts poetic
and
human defeat"
(85).
Yet defeat is
(inevitably?)
voiced as an
acknowledg-
ment of
precursor power. Perhaps
Bloom comes close to
explaining why
this is so:
"Poems,
as I
apprehend
them,
are not
tropes
of
being
or of
knowledge,
but rather are
tropes
of action or of desire"
(103). Maybe so,
but
meditating Coleridge's
refusal one might add that
they
are also
tropes
for the failures of
desire,
for the blankness
within,
for
blessing
denied,
wound received.
Not recommended for weak readers.
WallaceJackson,
Duke
University
D Texts
of
Terror:
Literary-Feminist
Readings of
Biblical Narratives.
By Phyllis
Trible.
Philadelphia:
Fortress
Press,
1984. xiv + 128
pp.
Paper
$9.65.
L Women Writers and the
City.
Essays
in Feminist
Literary
Criticism. Edited
by
Susan Merrill
Squier.
Knoxville:
University
of Tennessee
Press,
1984.
306
pp.
Cloth
$22.95; Paper
$9.95.
As
literary
criticism the slim volume Texts
of
Terror is
simple,
neat,
carefully
executed,
and
absolutely shocking. Phyllis
Trible has taken four
stories of women in the Old Testament and
subjected
them to
rigorous
rhetorical
analysis
and a feminist
perspective.
This method of
analysis
is
conventional,
but the combination of close
reading
of the text and
interpretation by
a
contemporary
feminist mind
produces
tales that have
not been told before and
certainly
would never be told in
patriarchal
hermeneutics.
Trible
explains
that her "task is to tell sad stories as
[she] hear[s]
them."
Each of her sad stories features a victimized woman from the sacred
scriptures
of
synagogue
and church. As Trible
explains
in her introduc-
tion,
"These narratives
yield
four
portraits
of
suffering
in ancient Israel:
Hagar,
the slave
used, abused,
and
rejected;
Tamar,
the
princess raped
and
discarded;
an unnamed
woman,
the
concubine,
raped,
murdered,
93 93