Many moons ago, when Harold Bloom, the rotund, melancholy Sterling Professor of Humanities at Yale University, Berg Professor of English at New York University, formerly Charles Eliot Norton Professor at Harvard, MacArthur Prize fellow, etcetera, came out with a book on the Western Canon, aptly titled The Western Canon, you knew that the Western Canon, “The Books and School of the Ages,” was not merely on its last legs. Like the classical Monte Python parrot, it was deceased.
Professor Bloom made the same point, that nobody reads the Classics anymore, in one of his many follow-up books, How to Read and Why, which appeared in 2000 and immediately scrambled aboard the New York Times bestseller list.
One wonders who reads Bloom’s books. One would think of humanities professors and their students. Think again. Throughout his writings and TV appearances, he constantly complains that his fellow professors are too busy deconstructing the Classics to bother with assigning them to their sodden charges, drunk with the god of electronic toys.
One might also think of the many souls who drop out of higher education to pursue more lucrative careers as mechanics, truck drivers, belly dancers, check-out serfs at WalMart, and, of course, bartenders at the Hôtel Cherokee Watering Hole. Are such persons the ones who read sentences like, “There is a curious dialectic in Molière that resembles Shakespeare’s tendency to enrich personalities by alienating them from communion with others”?
Yes. I speak from the experience of my long existence, first as a living human being and now as a robot. In fact, it was only yesterday that a man walked into a bar with his dog, sat down, and said, to no one in particular, “There is a curious dialectic in Molière that resembles Shakespeare’s tendency to enrich personalities by alienating them from communion with others.”
The ensuing discussion amongst those present was more interesting, more curiously dialectical, and more profound than any I had heard during my brief stay at the Freie Universität Berlin at what my friend and colleague Myles na Gopaleen, Jr. chooses to call the fin de siècle.
It was also more passionate, ending, as most serious barroom discussions do, in a brawl.