“Bloom’s Guides: Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’”

Bloom's Guide Beloved

This book has cemented my low opinion of Harold Bloom, with this sentence from his intro:

Beloved divides many of my acquaintances who possess critical discernment; for some of them it is a masterwork, for others it is supermarket literature. I myself am divided: not character in the novel persuades me, and yet much of the writing has authentic literary force. (emphasis mine)

He goes on, but I will spare you. Bloom’s name is on the book, as it is on two other books I read as I researched Beloved, so he is making money with this book that contains what I see as a low blow. Bloom may not regard Beloved as a masterpiece. But, as he notes, many people of critical discernment do, including those at the New York Times who, in 2006, named it the best book of American fiction of the past 25 years.

To use the term “supermarket literature” (deliberate deployment of damning oxymoron), in the preface to a scholarly collection of essays on that work, even while passively saying that it’s not him but others of his acquaintance, is insulting, not just to Morrison and the authors of the essays, but to me as a reader. Why should I read a book about a book that someone of critical discernment thinks is supermarket literature?

Then, to add further insult, the book is full of typos (could they not hire a competent copyeditor?) and the final essay has several outright factual errors, e.g. the rooster is misidentified as Brother, not Mister and thus Morrison’s careful strategies of naming characters are undermined.

Poorly done, Bloom, poorly done. It’s not enough to condescendingly admit that you think Song of Solomon is a masterpiece. You’ve outed yourself as an intellectual bully. After reading Beloved and the two other books with your name on it about Morrison, I would much rather live in a world that had Morrison’s literature than Bloom’s if I had to choose. But then, perhaps he’d think I don’t have critical discernment, and thus my opinion would not matter.

It’s too bad that Bloom’s churlish, petty comments in the introduction soured me at the start, because there are several very good essays in this book on Beloved that highlight interesting interpretations. If they had been treated to a good copyeditor, and not capped by a less-good essay, they might have been done justice.

2 Responses to ““Bloom’s Guides: Toni Morrison’s ‘Beloved’””

  1. Amy Says:

    I don’t have a copy on hand, but I seem to recall that he put together an anthology of criticism of Sylvia Plath, and in his intro said she wasn’t all that great. Which of course begs the question, why are you compiling this critical work if you don’t think it’s worth the effort? Even though Plath’s fans are legion, it’s not likely he made beaucoup bucks with that book.

  2. Katie L. Says:

    I spent a year of college taking courses from the woman who is probably Toni Morrison’s most well-known critic. And, even given that background, and the numerous criticisms I have of Toni Morrison, it would never cross my mind to call her work “supermarket literature.” Toni Morrison writes some of the most gorgeous prose known to humankind and, although I disagree with many of her premises, her writing gifts transcend those of most other talented writers by at least three times.