Harold Bloom: a new ‘religion’…

From a letter to Haim Isaacs, singer, performer & writer.

Harold Bloom – I presume you know him, maybe well: one of the best if most polemic American literary critics. Here is a  summary of one of his books (in an Academia.edu bibliography of Religious Studies):

Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992.

Bloom makes a convincing case that by the middle of the twentieth century there emerges an over-arching religious orientation (as opposed to doctrine) that cuts across a variety of mutually exclusive theological traditions. That orientation is Gnosticism characterized by methods of obtaining knowledge of our inner selves, establishing and maintaining a personal relationship with the divine (often at the expense of social solidarity), and fostering an obsession with our unique individual identities.

This description is actually close to my take on what you quoted Penny Kreizer as saying when she left Malérargues, shortly after Roy Hart’s death (May 1975): that she felt a Christian wave descended upon the Roy Hart Theatre. My view, many years later… is more specific. I was brought up a Christian but of the baroque Latin-Catholic kind. I tend to see what happened more in terms of the Anglo-Protestant predominance within the group (easily 90%). Especially the cult of singing in Protestantism. I have written about this in relation to the uncanny parallels with the Calvinist Camisards of the Malérargues region (around 1700) and their cult of the voice. Recently I observe a more Lutheran input at work.

To be more specific: Bloom (who is very Jewish) is pointing to the emergence of an apparently lay, Gnostic form of religiosity. (I like how the summary calls it “religion” as opposed to the ‘old’ religion which it calls “doctrine”.) This corresponds to what Jung offered, as it were, in replacement of the God that Nietzsche had proclaimed dead: the ‘religious’ quest for (your) Self. The question of individuality (and individuation) is more complex – and Roy Hart insisted so strongly on “the individual” in the last months of his life (see the script of the last performance “L’Economiste”). It is not a notion I find helpful – because it has too much of a monotheistic connotation (as Lopez-Pedraza would put it): the un-dividable, one, unique, central and normal personal god-term. Nevertheless, I stay with and return to Roy’s Talmudic take of singing – because of the intelligence of its paradoxes, and deliteralization – even though he was literal about singing – but Talmud-like! Even with an oxymoron like “conscious schizophrenia”, which alarmed Lopez-Pedraza.

Two notes. Your disappointment with James Hillman’s 1996 book The Soul’s Code, especially in the wake of his“European” books preceding it. I stand up for his political turn (less in this book), and for his wish for political impact. He charged against therapy in the US: the educated, upper middle-class Americans do not vote, they go to therapy. Stop looking in the mirror: look out the window! What is the repressed question in such therapy: “who do you vote for?” Brillant (re. Bloom’s: “at the expense of social solidarity”).

Another book on this is Sonu Shamdasani’s Cult Fictions: C. G. Jung and the Founding of Analytical Psychology. I described it as the best back-door entrance into Jung’s work – precisely on the question of what happens to religiosity after the death of God.


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