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The Magnificent Contrarian

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In Germany they call Marcel Reich-Ranicki the “Literaturpapst” — “the Pope of Literature.” And in America that title could only credibly be claimed by one person: Yale Literature professor Harold Bloom. His judgments about great literature and the sham wannabes are close to perfection (or at least to my own). And to boot, he is a continuously entertaining person to read. His treatment of Bush as Macbeth (“Macbush”) is a contemporary classic, and it seems obviously to have influenced the current outstanding Macbeth performance in London.

Now Bloom delivers up a vivid and very telling assessment of America during the reign of George W. Bush in an interview with Eva Sohlman of the Swedish program Världen i Fokus (World in Focus). In the best single passage, Bloom demonstrates that he just doesn’t get it–we are all supposed to be reciting the mantra “the surge is working, everything is fine, the Iraq War is a wonderful success.”

The horror of what is taking place in Iraq exceeds my worst fears five or six years ago (after Bush came to power). I am horrified at the disastrous mistake involved. Imagine the complete madness in trying to occupy a large Arab country in the middle of the Arab world, a culture we know precious little about, and who speaks a language only a handful of our specialists can speak, with armed forces which we have limited control of and with a large army of private soldiers… The whole thing is a scandal. . . a series of lies. I don’t understand the motivation for the war, but suspect the real reason for the war, which one would suspect of a country which is a third oligarchy, a third plutocracy and a third theocracy, is that it simply is a profitable machine.

We have caused a monstrous mess. We don’t even count killed Iraqis. God knows how many Iraqi women, children and men have been killed by our accidental shootings, which we are such experts at, or by other Iraqis. No, ‘Benito Bush’ (Bloom’s pet name for President George Bush) deserves, if we had a functioning civil law in the world, to be condemned for crimes against humanity. Bush is ultimately responsible for this war,” Bloom says pointing angrily with his index finger in the air as his dark eyes burn below a pair of thick dark eyebrows and a crown of unruly white hair.

And the Democrats are not much better, suffering from a politically disqualifying absence of will:

The truth is that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hoyer and the other Democrats who lead the Congress Party in the Senate, are far too cunning. They will talk about wanting to end the war and so on, but the truth is that they know they can’t do anything about it and it suits them as they can blame the Republicans for the war in the upcoming elections. But the ugly truth is that we can’t stop the war now. We are responsible for Iraq now. We have crushed it so now we own it. I have never seen this country (America) in such a bad state. But how big a percentage who actually cares, I don’t know.

Bloom also delivers some well-earned lashes at the U.S. media:

’Media-ocrity’ is what I call it. It is awful what kind of media we have today. Nobody dared to stand up and criticize Bush when he unlawfully went to war on Iraq. It is depressing, and shows what direction this country has taken since he came to power – a power which did not rightfully belong to him. The media is not playing its role. The Bushites are bullies and for a long time nobody dared criticize them and just swallowed their propaganda and lies. People have become scared. In this kind of climate, nobody is interested in the critical voice. You ask about the role of the intellectual in America today and I have to say: What role? What intellectuals? There is no room for them in the simplified and dumbed down world of today’s media. We used to play a role, and there are still a few left, but we are a dying breed. Nobody seems to be interested in nuance anymore.

Just when I thought the flame of traditional conservatism had gone dead in America, I see it still burning brightly in New Haven. Harold Bloom may be weak and ill, but he continues to have a mind that few can effectively challenge. But more importantly, he also has a clear view of the tragedy we have brought upon ourselves, which few in this country want to see.

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