Erotic Adventures of the Mind by Diana Schaub

Diana Schaub, "Erotic Adventures of the Mind," Public Interest, Winter 1994.


It is this “fall of eros” which Bloom addresses. If The Closing of the American Mind diagnosed the problem, Love and Friendship delivers the cure. It is not an institutional cure — not, for instance, a proposal for a Great Books curriculum. It is instead a very personal witness of the place a few select books assumed in Bloom’s own life and self-understanding. There are long essays on Rousseau’s Emile and Plato’s Symposium, with shorter essays on Stendhal’s The Red and the Black, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Flauberts Madame Bovary, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Montaignes “Of Friendship,” and five Shakespeare plays (Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, Measure for Measure, Troilus and Cressida, and The Winter’s Tale). Bloom conveys very palpably the excitement these books can offer, the kinds of questions they raise, the insights they prompt. While Bloom’s involvement with these books is intense and long-standing, it is not exclusive; he invites the reader to a ménage à trois. The sentimental education one experiences is a refutation of all the fiddlers and debasers.

This is not to say that Bloom’s interpretations are always persuasive. Despite his penetrating criticisms of Romanticism, and the psychological acuity he demonstrates in uncovering romantic illusions, there is, in Bloom, an irrepressible, almost swooning self-identification with figures like Julien Sorel and Emma Bovary. Moreover, he believes that their creators identified with them as well: “Julien seems to represent the fantasy life of Stendhal, what this unprepossessing writer would like to have been like”; “Emma and Flaubert are full of longing for ideals that cannot be…. They share defeat.” However, even taking the full measure of the artist’s hatred for the bourgeoisie, why must that lead either artist or audience to embrace the defective, alienated beings that the bourgeoisie extrudes? Indeed, one objection against the bourgeoisie might be that all it produces in reaction is the anemic and febrile Emma. Alternatively, one might, like Bloom, acknowledge the essential identity of Flaubert and Emma, but, unlike Bloom, see it as grounds for aesthetic and moral criticism. Henry James is a reliable guide here.

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