I commented long ago in The Spine about the courtship between fundamentalist Christianity and Israel. One of the early signs that it was meshing was the meeting between [Israeli Prime Minister Menahem] Begin and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bailey Smith, who had said that God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew. That’s a big theological rift already. But Begin tried to finesse the history.
My post on Monday musing on the recent highbrow critiques of Mormonism by Chris Lehmann in Harper's magazine and Harold Bloom in the New York Times provoked some thoughtful responses from Mormon readers who questioned whether Mitt Romney's religion was any grounds for discussion. Buried deep inside today's Times was another small reminder why many people believe it is fair topic for conversation: because Mitt Romney is not any old Mormon. He was, as a recent profile described, not only the "bishop" of his local congregation in Belmont, Mass.
One odd feature of this bizarre Republican primary season is what we haven't seen yet: a full-bore re-litigation of Mitt Romney's Mormonism. There was a one-day tizzy last month over the anti-Mormon comments by Southern Baptist Convention leader Rev. Robert Jeffers, a Rick Perry supporter, but that's pretty much been it, which is all the more notable given that Romney's not the only Mormon in the race. Instead, the only ones to really contend with the implications of Romney's Mormonism have been a few voices about as far from GOP circles as one can get.
The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life By Harold Bloom (Yale University Press, 357 pp., $32.50) With The Anatomy of Influence, Harold Bloom has promised us his “swan song” as a critic. Fat chance.
“Here’s how I play,” John Coltrane remarked in an interview in 1961. “I start from one point and go as far as possible. But, unfortunately, I never lose my way.” It was not long before Coltrane escaped the confinement of what he already knew, and made exploration itself into his highest value; but it must also be said that an ethic of unending exploration, a life of serial certitudes, may also be shallow and a mark of mere restlessness. There are many ways to be lost. (Coltrane at the end of his questing life certainly sounds lost to me.
Embarrassment is an important element in the pedagogy of experience. There are mistakes I will never make again because I made them once and was usefully shamed. In the winter of 1974, when I was a bright and callow student, and did not yet grasp the difference between knowledge and knowingness, I endured such a lucky education at the hands of Diana Trilling. The subject was the danger of simplification in the intellectual engagement with politics.
“For two thousand years,” wrote Harold Rosenberg, “the main energies of Jewish communities have gone into the mass production of intellectuals.” For Rosenberg, the art critic who belonged to the receding constellation of writers known as the New York Intellectuals, such a claim was something between a boast and a self-justification. The New York Intellectuals were mainly second-generation Americans, whose self-sacrificing immigrant parents won them the opportunities America offered to newcomers, including Jews.
Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine By Harold Bloom (Riverhead Books, 256 pp., $24.95) I. There are certain writers, such as Garry Wills and John Updike, who seem to aspire to a state of continuous publication, as if their readership were constantly reviewing them for tenure. Harold Bloom has been among their number since 1990, when he aimed The Book of J at a general readership. It is admirable to want to write criticism for someone other than one's colleagues and graduate students, and Bloom's intelligence, erudition, and charm have made him America's best-known man of letters.
After Theory By Terry Eagleton (Basic Books, 231 pp., $25) I. When I attended Cambridge in the mid-1980s, "theory" was sickly ripe. What looked like its fiercest flush of life, the red of its triumph, was in fact the unnatural coloring of fever. Paul de Man had just died, Harold Bloom was preparing his second career as a weak misreader of Clifton Fadiman, Roland Barthes was gone, the Yale gang of deconstructionists was breaking up, and much postmodern silliness among the signifiers was just around the corner.