Archive for July, 2018

Literature as Religion

Harold Bloom uses the religious symbolism of the Kabbalah to link literature to the spiritual impulse. He views the nature of writing as a religious pursuit through which the writer delves into his own consciousness. In turn, the writing produced expands the consciousness of readers. In seeking enduring truths about the nature of humanity, the writer identifies the divine in mankind. Often founded upon prophetic visions, religions aspire to uplift and sanctify. Similarly, literature aims to enlighten, using flights of imagination to illuminate. Bloom groups the authors he discusses in his book Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Minds, 2002, under the ten divine attributes, the genius of God, illustrated by rays of light both emanating and remaining within the divine center.

Furthermore, Bloom claims that writers are gnostics and that literature is the practice of gnosticism.  Bloom writes that “gnosticism has been indistinguishable from imaginative genius.” He contends that gnosticism is the religion of literature. It frees the creative mind from any theology except its creative self and the unquenchable thirst for knowing. Gnostics are intoxicated with creative consciousness. Gnosticism is the search for knowledge about the human condition and the revelation of the divine spark that animates creation. The act of creation is the primal force that religions attribute to the Godhead. To create, then, is to partake of the divine.

It can very well be said that the eminent literary critic Harold Bloom has pursued in his eight-seven years the study of literature as passionately as any theologian.  The correlation of literature and religion carries merit. As I became less and less dogmatic about religion and my attachment to the ultimate veracity of any particular faith, literature did assume the stature of theology in my mind. I pursued writing and reading as devotedly as Paul followed Christ. I accepted the credo that reading widely and expansively in the classics and the accepted canon of the world’s literature broadens vision, builds a life with greater meaning, and creates a sense of kinship with people of different races, nationalities, cultures, and epochs. It enlarges the spiritual capacity for sympathetic understanding. It makes possible forgiveness of our own and others’ limitations and errors. What could be more spiritual? What could provide more amplitude for the soul to grow than the bountiful garden of the world’s literature?

When Adam and Eve ate of the apple, the fruit of the Tree of Good and Knowledge, it metaphorically portrayed man’s desire to partake of divine attributes. In the Kabbalah, the Sefirot are depicted as tree branches representing the ten divine traits, which are in constant motion. Bloom lists the Sefirot as: Keter, crown; Hokmah, wisdom; Binah, intellect in a recipient mode; Hesod, love; Din, strict judgment; Tefiret, beauty; sefirah, God’s victory or endurance; Hod, splendor of prophetic force; Yesod, foundation or a fathering force; Malkhut, female radiance of God.  In Bloom’s estimation, great art induces greater consciousness or knowledge of nature. He states the use of literature is to “augment awareness.” The measure of art is the degree to which it accomplishes this goal. According to Bloom, great literature must go beyond entertainment. If it stops at entertainment, it is not genius. This strikes me as harkening back to Horace’s dictum that art should both delight and instruct. Bloom would agree, but he elucidates it further, asserting that the greatest art is that which also expands to the greatest extend the reader’s consciousness.