I, J, K

January 31, 2007

Source: John Abbott

This essay was published in The Salt Companion to Harold Bloom, ed. Roy Sellars and Graham Allen (Cambridge: Salt Publishing, 2007),  pp. 319-31.

Despite all scholarly attempts to counter or revise Bloom’s thesis on religious authorship, there remains one previously unimagined angle on his curious depiction of J. I say this not to discredit academic procedures of discussing either Bloom or the Torah, but to stress the fact that the critic’s own foray into scriptural writing did not begin with his infamous co-authored 1990 text, The Book of J. A vivid awareness of this – which any reader in those puzzling few years preceding The Book of J should have possessed – is crucial to recognising the various kinds of conditions under which J came to be for him. The idea’s current specificity can lead us wrongly to assume that an earlier Bloom would have needed just the opportunity to lay down his formulation completely and in elaborate detail. His notorious staunchness after 1990 even inspires a further trend: we speak of his construal these days in a way that suggests how future adjustments to the J of biblical scholarship can bear little or no relevance to it. Bloom’s J, in other words, is now a rehabilitated creature, accepted by many as yet another idiosyncratic aspect of one man’s cosmology, a vision that cannot constitutively differentiate between literature and religion. Such an outcome satisfies not just sceptics but also devotees who want to keep J in a corner, haunted perhaps by practical issues such as how J’s proclaimed originality could have eluded Bloom for two-thirds of his career and how a writer with barely over a hundred pages of translatable text can be grouped with Homer, William Shakespeare and Leo Tolstoy. Indeed, Bloom’s case appears increasingly like something out of a Pirandellian script – not with characters seeking an author but with a plot seeking characters – or a variant of William Paley’s analogy: Bloom finds a watch and, instead of seeing a watchmaker-God, sees signatures of creative individuals warring against the intransigent systems of time.


Gwee Li Sui

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