Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Allan Bloom

I looked him up last night.  He only made it to 62.  That's not very good, but it may have been overwork.

But it may have been grief from being misunderstood. I read he was generally regarded as a "conservative" among most intellectuals, but this is a misperception.  That this is a misperception is obvious within the book itself.  From my own perspective, one need only note the seriousness with which he regarded Rousseau, and the esteem he held him in, to see this.

Bloom's book might well have been titled "The Etiology of an Error: how modernist stupidity ruined my fun."

All he is really doing is pointing to the manifest and sundry contradictions within modern intellectual history, which like Ouroboros use rationalism to destroy rationalism, and, not surprisingly, then have nothing useful or practical to say.  In the symbol, the image is intended to connote both destruction and creation.  In the modern Academy, the snake succeeds, somehow, in digesting itself, leaving nothing, as Bloom says, but disingenuous but absolutely clear nihilism.

Another title might be: "How the modern University became civilization and democracies greatest enemy."

Bloom is sympathetic when Rousseau talks about the General Will, and people being forced to "be free".  He sees in Rousseau a foreshadowing of the later distinction de Tonnies drew between "Gesellschaft" and "Gemeinschaft."

In his portrayal of the problem of the Last Man, Bloom is absolutely useful, though.  Who is this person in the strip mall, and what is their purpose in life?  What could, and what should be their purpose, and who are we to comment, criticize, or commend?

And where do we go from here?  Unlike Bloom, I retain what gets called a "normative" disposition.  I think the Big Questions can be settled in flexible but relatively fixed ways.  I might say it this way: I believe the beginning of a path can be described which will always lead somewhere interesting and useful if followed with diligence and courage.

He thought that some questions were inherently sufficient in themselves, and that the process of answering was the process of diminishing and eventually the process of destroying through innervation and starvation the culturally creative energies of the human race.  This, in any event, is what I understood him to have said.

I am in the 3rd part now, and should finish in the next week or so. I understand his fascination with universities and the life of the mind.  I have felt it myself.  I felt it at the University of Chicago, in fact.  I used to find bookstores enchanting places, because there were so many places to go.

That feeling has diminished to a great extent.  Where I saw endlessly magical places in the past, now I see a long series of dead ends, generalized admission of failure, and the marketing of niceness, novelty, and career success.

When I want the answers I seek, my most useful resource is a meditation mat in my room, looking at candles, and inhaling incense and listening to very pleasant music.

Why seek the counsel of neurotics if the goal is seeking an end to neuroticism?  All fools have solutions to the problem of foolishness, but . . .

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